Law & justice

Aboriginal youth programs can work

Youth programs for young Aboriginal people can break a cycle of violence and get them in touch with their culture. These programs give them self-respect and self-confidence, and allow them to become successful role models for others.

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Aboriginal youth programs that work

Aboriginal youth is often exposed to domestic violence and abuse which increases the risk of them becoming future offenders.

Taking these young Aboriginal people out to activities can break the cycle, renew their ties to Aboriginal culture and respect for elders.

"When [young people] go to festivals and see others being young, black and deadly [very good], then it becomes a truth," says Aboriginal educator Dr Chris Sarra . "They're able to say 'we are young , black and deadly too and it's okay for us to think that."

It is refreshing and encouraging to read a few success stories in the area of law and justice.

The songlines that once linked Aboriginal communities have been replaced by trauma lines.

— Ken Zulumovski, Aboriginal Men's Healing and Life Skills Program

Video: Impact of Aboriginal Community Sport Programs

The Australian Sports Commission, in partnership with Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, Surfing Australia and the University of Queensland conducted research at various locations around Australia to find out if Aboriginal sport programs deliver results.

"Those kids are now seen as heroes"

When Aboriginal youths destroyed a police truck NSW Aboriginal Liaison Officer Eddie Moore started spending time and talking with them.

He realised that he had to "establish ways of relieving the boredom, of getting the kids off the street and actively involved in things" .

One task was to "break the cycle where repeat offenders were often seen as heroes and role models by younger Aboriginal youths and find them other role models".

In 2006 Mr Moore established the Wanga Indingii Program which started with a three-day camp for about 15 Aboriginal boys with activities like spear-making and storytelling. Since then the program has grown into a 12-month structured program for about 40 Koori kids each year.

Aboriginal kids participating in the program are nominated by their schools or youth-related service providers, which encourages the kids to regularly attend school and perform well.

The program monitors the children's school attendance and behaviour and helps them get back on track if there are any problems at school or at home. Through teaching them life-skills and encouraging them along the way these kids complete their courses, thus becoming role models of a different kind to their peers.

A leadership project identifies future leaders in the Aboriginal community among the kids who are then taken to an intensive training. At the end they walk the Kokoda Track (a narrow 96-km track in Papua New Guinea) with seven police officers, a life-changing experience.

Those kids are now seen as heroes and are acting as mentors to other kids.

— Eddie Moore, NSW Police Aboriginal Liaison Officer

That's one of the hardest things I'll probably ever do in my life. Everything seems easier now. You think back to when you're over there. You don't need to complain.

— Jessica Pratt, leadership project participant

Story: Boys and dogs

In New South Wales a life skills program called Paws Up helps Aboriginal boys to get back on track.

Boys are paired with dogs and both are put through their paces at dog jumping events.

Participants raise and care for their dogs, learning skills and responsibilities along the way, and boosting their self-respect.

Many of the boys participating in the program have moved on to gain traineeships in a range of industries.

"I am a far better person," says Redfern police commander

For some police officers working in Redfern, Sydney's suburb with the highest Aboriginal population, "the suburb's notorious Block is beyond conventional police control" (Sergeant Paul Huxtable) and is the "bag snatch capital" of Australia .

But this is only half the story. After walking the streets and acting as a primary contact to Aboriginal people as a Police Local Area Commander in Redfern for 14 months, Catherine Burn said:

I am a far better person because of what I have learned from many Aboriginal people over the last 14 months. My daily walks around the Block and other areas in Redfern have given me a greater understanding of so many troubling issues but have also given me a greater hope that we can move forward and achieve positive change

— Catherine Burn, Police Commander

For Catherine breaking down the barriers between police and Aboriginal people is key to "overcome some of the obstacles that have traditionally been present between police and Aboriginal people." This can be done through projects like

  • Youth Mentor Program: Young Aboriginal children are allocated a police mentor who aims to meet with them fortnightly to discuss relevant issues such as school or sport;
  • Oz Tag, the only true non-contact form of Rugby League, where a tackle is affected when a tag is removed from the side of a player's shorts;
  • Horse Whispering, where young Indigenous people learn about using trust instead of fear when they manage horses at the Redfern Mounted Police Centre;
  • Sea skills: teaching Aboriginal youth sea skills,
  • community BBQs,

and a whole range of other activities. In reference to the young Aboriginal children at Redfern Catherine states:

They are great kids who have experienced more trauma in their short lives than most of us have ever, or will ever, experience.

— Catherine Burn, Police Commander

Traumas are often caused by domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, social and economic disadvantage or cross-generational traumas of the Stolen Generations.

Young Aboriginal offenders celebrate culture

Sydney's Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre has successfully tried another way of strengthening young Aboriginal offenders' self-confidence and cultural knowledge .

To prepare the performance of a Dreaming story the group learned about the Dreaming and how to perform traditional Aboriginal dance.

The young offenders learned about their culture and reconnected with their Aboriginal identity. They also learned to share knowledge and developed a better understanding of each other, their self-respect and respect for others.

The program provides a forum for Aboriginal young offenders to develop friendships with other Aboriginal young people in custody, helping them to stay on the right track towards rehabilitation.

Young Aboriginal children performing a dance.
Young Aboriginal children performing a dance. Activities like these help young Aboriginal offenders to connect with their peers and develop self-respect and confidence.


View article sources (7)

[1] 'Vibe Alive wins Sarra's backing', Koori Mail 455 p.33
[2] 'Enquiry examines jailing of juveniles', Koori Mail 472 p.37
[3] [3a] 'Program helps kids walk tall', Koori Mail 436 p.38
[4] 'Going the Distance', MessageSticks, 12/11/2007, ABC1, 6pm, (3/1/2009)
[5] 'Paws Up to show skills', Koori Mail 495 p.4
[6] 'Redfern, 90 days after the eruption', The Sydney Morning Herald, 16/5/2004
[7] 'Young offenders celebrate culture', Koori Mail 444 p.38

Cite this page

Korff, J 2021, Aboriginal youth programs can work, <>, retrieved 25 July 2024

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