Because of her we can: Jodie Choolburra

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Because of her we can: Jodie Choolburra

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2018 ‘Because of Her We Can!’ - held across Australia 8-15 July - we were fortunate to talk with four remarkable Indigenous women making huge changes in our communities. All imagery supplied is by Wayne Quilliam whose photographs showcase real indigenous women living in contemporary society. With more than 30 years’ experience Wayne is Australia’s most respected Aboriginal photographer.

Jodie Choolburra, Managing Director of Yirrinjula Dreaming, home to The Indigenous Artist Magazine, is passionate about promoting Aboriginal arts and culture to local, national and global audiences, and has played a critical role in educating communities about the value and importance of Aboriginal arts as a vehicle to foster respect, awareness and understanding.

We chatted to Jodie about her long-spanning career in arts and media, why we need to fight for authenticity in Aboriginal arts, and the local female heroes inspiring her every day.

Westfield: ‘Because of Her, We Can!’ celebrates Indigenous women who play an active and important role in the community. How did you become involved in the Indigenous arts scene and what does it mean to you?

Jodie Choolburra: I got involved 10 years ago through Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation. I was engaged as the radio program training officer and worked my way up to a CEO role. I believe arts helps bridge the gap between Indigenous and mainstream Australia, and the world. It's vital for our everyday life in Australian society.

W: You are seen to many as a positive role model within the female Indigenous community. Who inspires you and why?

JC: I am motivated by my kids, but I draw my inspiration from our culture, being the oldest living continued culture in the world. For me that's empowerment; I'm proud to represent that culture and it's why I do the work that I do. I'm also inspired by everyday local people around me who are visionaries, I love dreamers and doers.

W: Your career has been focused around art and communication. What role can art play in helping people understand Indigenous culture?

JC: The first way is to use art as a vehicle for two-way education, a way to express our stories, our voice, and our culture, our history and our future. International audiences are especially intrigued by Aboriginal culture, so art is a way to educate the broader global audience as well. I've just completed a Certificate 1 in Aboriginal languages and I'm loving being able to learn my language, especially being a descendant of the Stolen Generation. My Grandfather was fluent in his local language but was forced to stop speaking it, so to get my language back has been empowering.

W: The Indigenous arts scene has seen a considerable growth in awareness and profile in recent years. What more could be done to share Indigenous culture with a mainstream audience?

JC: Inclusion not exclusion is the biggest thing. In order to see Indigenous arts, music or programs you have to tune into community media, you don't see us in mainstream media. We need to be included in mainstream channels. Regular promotion of positive stories is also critical, for example, coverage of Indigenous programs that are succeeding, or of our dreaming and creation stories. We have the oldest living culture in the world – why not embrace and learn from it as a national community? The Australian Government also needs to take a strong stand against fake Indigenous art and local and international buyers need to seek authentic pieces direct from Aboriginal artists - that way we're enriched with the real stories and symbols of our culture.

W: What values do modern Indigenous women represent today?

JC: I don't speak for Indigenous women as a whole, but for me I represent the same values that most Aboriginal women did 60,000 years ago. As a modern Indigenous woman, I've learnt to walk in two worlds – we represent our cultural identity, and we represent the Australian identity. When you're an Indigenous mother that's another aspect. We're strong, resilient Black women and for me my culture and my children are at the forefront of my values, and every decision I make. I love this year's theme, but I also don't want to exclude our men. Women couldn’t be at the forefront if not for the support of our husbands, our fathers, our brothers.

W: In your opinion, who are some of the unsung heroes in the Indigenous female community?

JC: The everyday people – the mothers putting their struggles aside to ensure they get the job done, a person reading to kids to encourage education, the people feeding the homeless. It's those making a change to somebody's life, even if it’s just one person, who are the unsung heroes for me.

W: As a mother, what advice will you give them to help them thrive and grow?

JC: I encourage my kids to be dreamers, to have big goals but to set smaller goals to achieve them. I support my kids' aspirations and I let them explore. I think that's a vital tool in a child's education and identity, to find out who they are by exploring different things at different times. My children are enriched with their culture, it's at the forefront of everything we do. My kids cook traditional food using native ingredients, we go back to country and connect with country and community and culture. We also include our culture in our city urban life. My children are all dancers and experience their culture through dance at the Redfern Dance Company.
Providing them with a cultural identity gives them the tools to thrive because they know who they are - they’ve got pride and self-esteem.

W: You’ve been selected as one of 12 people in Australia to be a part of the prestigious KARI Leadership Program. What does being a leader in the Indigenous community mean to you and how will you share what you learn in the program with your community?

JC: When I was first selected for the leadership program I was quite blown away - I'm honoured and excited to be a part of it. My view of a leader is somewhat different to what other people may perceive as a leader. For me, a leader is someone who works on the ground, with the people, instead of being necessarily at the forefront, being the face and voice. Working on community projects and outreach is a way for me to share all my knowledge. I've done a lot of youth work to help young people work towards their aspirations and give them the tools to succeed.

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