Katherine Rosonakis

Social Science
Summer 2014

Learning on many levels at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

At the end of last year I completed my International Studies degree at UNSW. I began my degree with big ideas about working for an NGO in some remote African village; however I have completed it with far greater concern and interest in the injustices in my own country and community. After undertaking electives in Australian Indigenous studies I was left wanting to learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and organisations. This led me to pursue an internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, which places some social science, legal and anthropology students and graduates in Indigenous organisations for 5-6 week internships. 

In January and February, I was placed with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Redfern who work with Indigenous communities in Sydney and around the country to deliver programs in diverse areas, including arts, cultures, health, education, employment, sport and the digital sphere. During my internship I got a taste of a lot of the different sides of the NCIE’s work, the areas of most interest to me were the Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) Initiative and the Afterschool Program.

From my point of view, the most exciting and unique element of NCIE’s approach is its commitment to change the language and dialogue around Indigenous communities from a focus on disadvantage and deficit, to a focus on excellence, empowerment and pride in over 70,000 years of culture and innovation.  One of my favourite details about NCIE’s organisation culture is that they have an ‘Aunty in Residence’, whose role is to provide support and pastoral care to staff (an idea which was new to me and which I thought was brilliant).

The IDX Initiative is still in its very early stages, but its long-term aim is to support Indigenous communities to leverage digital technologies to enhance individual and community wellbeing. This ranges from improving digital literacy and cyber safety awareness, to supporting Indigenous entrepreneurs to create things such as new apps, to supporting communities to pass on and promote language and culture using digital technologies. My work with the IDX Initiative included helping to organise a major strategy planning workshop attended by NCIE staff, community representatives and major supporters, the Telstra Foundation. The day of this workshop was the most exciting and rewarding of my internship as I really got the chance to see the passion, eloquence and the deep knowledge and understanding of my colleagues as they discussed the challenges and nuances involved defining IndigenousDX and ‘wellbeing’, where to invest limited resources, the relative importance of individual vs. community benefits, as well as their hopes and dreams for Indigenous Digital Excellence.

While at NCIE, I would always look forward to 3pm, when I would get to leave the computer screen and go and join the kids at the Afterschool Program. One of the coolest things for me was to witness some of the cultural education, such as the kids pointing out their Country on the map of Indigenous Australia, and talking about their families and their Country. Other highlights were being totally smashed in one on one basketball by kids half my size (what skill!) and accompanying the students to workshops at Sydney Story Factory, where they get to explore their creative writing skills. Some of the staff talk about how they were never given the opportunity to attend programs which gave them cultural support and education, and this gives me a lot of hope that these children will be the first generation to grow up with pride and knowledge of their own cultures as the norm rather than as a constant struggle. 

To any students and graduates interested in working with or learning more about Indigenous organisations, I would highly recommend undertaking an Aurora internship or getting involved with NCIE (http://ncie.org.au). Applications for internships through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program are open in March and August of each year (www.auroraproject.com.au). Applications for the summer 2014/15 round of internships will be open from 4thto 29thAugust online via their website.