Martu leadership program offers blueprint

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Martu Leadership Program members and PDC staff at Roebourne’s Ngurin Cultural Centre.
Camera IconMartu Leadership Program members and PDC staff at Roebourne’s Ngurin Cultural Centre. Credit: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

A cross-cultural leadership program undertaken by the Pilbara’s Martu people, and showcased in Roebourne last week, could become a pilot for other Aboriginal communities after a successful four years.

The Martu Leadership Program is a community development project that teaches its people about how Western systems of government, corporations and law work to develop participants’ leadership skills and build their capacity as a community.

Last Friday, about 11 Martu people — the traditional owners of a large part of the Central Western Desert — met in Roebourne to explain the program and the impact it had to an audience of Pilbara government agency staff, industry representatives and residents.

They spoke about how the program had grown to include 70 participants who had travelled to Canberra and State capitals, met government leaders, judges and chief executives, and taken part in board meetings and conferences to gain a better understanding of “mainstream” culture.

Founding member Slim Williams said the program worked because it centred on constantly learning new things, underpinned by Martu culture.

“For us it’s like we’re going back to school and learning more things about the Government, companies and white fella law,” he said.

“It has really helped each and every one of us. We’ve got confidence, and for us in what we’re doing now, we’ve got pride.”

The Martu Leadership Program was developed about four years ago by cultural knowledge organisation Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa after four young Martu men asked KJ manager of strategy and governance Peter Johnson if they could sit in on a board meeting to learn more about how corporations operated.

“That was the first insight that an adult education program to teach young Martu about different aspects of the whitefella world would be something that could succeed,” Mr Johnson said.

“It started with companies and corporate governance, moved into finance, the criminal justice system, native title law, economic development, and in every area, as long as the learning was framed in ways that were relevant to young Martu men and women, they were incredibly enthusiastic about learning.”

“It shows how young people need to learn about the whitefella world and they want to learn about the whitefella world, and they want to learn different, sophisticated things.”

He said the program’s success had attracted a lot of interest from other groups and it had “enormous scope” to be rolled out to other Aboriginal communities in WA.

The leadership program is a joint initiative between KJ and World Vision Australia, supported by BHP, the State Government through Royalties for Regions, and the Commonwealth Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Pilbara Development Commission chief executive Terry Hill said they were excited to support the program.

“It’s great to see the Martu people moving onto other people’s country and sharing their experiences and ideas with other people, and it’s a bit unique in how that’s happening,” he said.

“The more of that that happens, hopefully there’ll be some good outcomes and some different thinking from other organisations that are working in the region.”

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