Yiriman Project wins Indigenous Governance Award

As proud supporters, Laneway Festival and The Dean Turner Project are extremely pleased to announce that the Yiriman Project has won the Reconciliation Australia 2012 Indigenous Governance Award (IGA) in Category B: Outstanding examples of Indigenous governance in a non-incorporated initiative or project.

The Awards recognise and promote effective, innovative, courageous and creative leadership and decision-making that show Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people determining and driving real change. An independent judging panel visited each of the finalists throughout August and September, assessing them against five criteria including self-determination, cultural relevance, legitimacy, future planning and governance resilience.

Click here to listen to an SBS radio interview with Yiriman Project founding Elder John Watson

IGA Chair and award judge Professor Mick Dodson, who visited the Yiriman Project in August, said, “The Yiriman Project is addressing a vital community need in an innovative, well-structured and cost-effective manner. They have clear and effective ownership by the elders with strong cultural underpinning—it’s a model that could be replicated in other parts of the Kimberley and the country at large.”

YirimanPictured: The Yiriman Directors and Cultural Advisors with Mick Dodson and Gary Banks in Fitzroy Crossing. (Photo by Wayne Quilliam, courtesy of Reconciliation Australia)

Gary Banks, Chairman of the Productivity Commission and board member of Reconciliation Australia also visited the program as a judge. He later stated in an article he wrote for The Australian newspaper: "What has made the Yiriman Project so successful is that the solutions that have been devised and implemented have involved whole communities and families. The project is grounded in an understanding of the problems and the solutions, something that is hard to achieve from Canberra or the capitals."

Four senior founding Elders from the Yiriman Project attended the awards ceremony in Melbourne on October 12, 2012, including Nyikina Elder John Watson, Walmajarri Elder Joe Brown, Nyikina Elder Annie Milgin, and Karajarri Elder Sylvia Shovellor, along with founding coordinator Peter Ljubik, current coordinators Scott Herring and Jen Klewitz, and the Kimberly Aboriginal Law and Culture Centere (KALACC) Manager Wes Morris. The group returned to the Kimberly to a cheering mob of family awaiting them in the Broome airport. As word spread to the wider Yiriman community, a great sense of pride and accomplishment for being recognised for the last 12 years of hard work was shared by all.

The Yiriman Project is a non-incorporated Aboriginal organisation, auspiced by the Kimberly Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre (KALACC). Established in 2000 and initially implemented in Jarlmadangah Burru Aboriginal Community, the program is currently based out of Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia. 

The Yiriman Project is an intergenerational, "on-Country" cultural program, conceived and developed directly by Elders from four Kimberly language groups- Nyikina, Mangala, Karajarri and Walmajarri- and whose aim is to "build stories in young people".

These four language groups form their own culture block, having similar cultural, geographical, language and kinship ties across a vast region of traditional lands stretching from the coastline south of Broome, inland to the desert areas south and just east of Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia. These ties lend themselves to the strength and success of the Yiriman Project. 

The concept for the Yiriman project arose out of the concern of the Elders for their young people, who were facing increasingly serious issues such as self- harm, substance abuse and the loss of cultural identity.

The Elders saw the need for a way in which youth could separate themselves from negative influences and, through the care and guidance of older generations, reconnect with their Culture in remote and Culturally significant places.

Believing in the power of their own Culture and of Country to heal their own young people, the Elders began taking young people out on to Country, travelling over Country by foot, camel or vehicle, teaching and speaking in language, visiting ancestral sites, storytelling, engaging in traditional song and dance, preparing young people for ceremony and law practices, teaching traditional crafts, tracking, hunting, and preparing traditional bush tucker, practicing bush medicine, and passing on knowledge to the younger generations. The Yiriman Project continues all of these practices throughout its programs today.

Beyond the transfer of knowledge and skills, Yiriman trips provide a safe and effective space for relationship to others and to Country to develop, and for communication and decision making to occur by Cultural means. In this way, cultural healing, originating from within the culture and guided by the Elders themselves, occurs.

The Elders believed at the start, as they do today, that through this reconnection and the resulting sense of cultural identity and belonging, young people gain strength and resilience, and build positive stories which they then take with them back to their towns and communities. 

Many current challenges continue to face the young people and the Culture itself, including increased rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, health issues, increasing demands on the Elders, young parenthood, and ensnarement in the Justice system. Despite these challenges, under the continued strong self- governance of the community, the founding principles at the heart of the Yiriman Project remain simple and effective, and shine through as a bright example success in serving to address all of these issues by cultural means.

Yiriman2Pictured: Yiriman Directors with other award winners at the Reconciliation Australia Indigenous Governance Awards luncheon in Melbourne on October 12, 2012. (Photo by Wayne Quilliam, courtesy of Reconciliation Australia)

"My brother Johnny Watson and Harry and all the old people from Fitzroy Valley came up with this little program called Yiriman to protect and look after kids. And when they was looking after kids they was looking after old people same time and looking at how to look after the Country. We still going with it."

-Mr. John Hopiga, Karajarri Elder

"Yiriman taking out kids who getting into trouble. Old people do lots of singing, get young people into language group, we tell them what skin we [are]. Get them working down there. Respecting old people. Cutting boomerang. Drive kids out looking for food, kangaroo, turkey. Learn how to find a feed. Old people been tell story, young people pick up that story. Future for culture side. Young people love it. Most things didn't happen before are happening now."

-Mr. Joe Brown, Walmajarri Elder

"When you on country, you walk with a spring in your step, you walk with your head high, you not afraid of anything. In order to find yourself you have to get lost. So best place to get lost is Country."

- William Watson, Nyikina Man

Yiriman is supported by St Jerome's Laneway Festival as part of The Dean Turner Project.

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