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Meet Wimmera Indigenous youth leader Tanisha Lovett


Entries for the 2020 Regional Development Victoria Leadership and Innovation Award are now open. We have a yarn with last year’s winner, Tanisha Lovett.

Tanisha LovettIf you, or someone you know, is thinking of nominating for the Regional Development Victoria Leadership and Innovation Award, read on to glean some pointers from the 2019 winner, Gunditjmara and Wotjobaluk woman Tanisha Lovett.

Despite being just 21 years of age, it’s clear the Horsham local’s ability to make a tangible, lasting impact with young people in her community was a strong factor that led to her being on the winner’s podium.

Tanisha is in her element as an Indigenous mentor for school kids.“I love helping Indigenous youth access resources: teaching them the importance of being connected to their culture and community,” she says. “It can help them find pride in themselves.”

Working with both primary and secondary school children in the Wimmera, her support technique is not overly complicated: “I’m just down to earth; I want to be someone they can trust and look up to and we campaign against family violence. If kids have any issues that bother them, I try my hardest to help them or get the right guidance or contacts to do so.

“We want to help kids in their development and support their families with that. This could involve making sure they’re healthy with dentist checks, hearing tests, podiatry, speech therapy and trying to make sure our Aboriginal kids have an easy transition into primary school. I work with the health and well-being team as well so a lot of our programs promote no smoking, healthy eating and exercise: teaching them to live a healthy lifestyle."

The topic of identity comes up a lot in classes. “Kids need to be taught about the effects of bullying and racism and how it’s not okay,” says Tanisha. “Being bullied for being an Aboriginal can be especially hard as a child: it can affect some in choosing if they want to identify or not. We also talk about how skin colour is not a factor for being Aboriginal and that we come in all shades - shades of deadly.”

Currently, Tanisha is managing the Nyupun program for kids in grades three to six at two Horsham primary schools. Students learn from male and female elders, receive an animal totem (if they don’t already know theirs) and get an education on local Indigenous culture including art, cooking, excursions out on country and traditional dance. Yet the main lesson, she says, is teaching kids to care for each other, their land and culture.

Going bush: campsite lessons

Sometimes, the best life lessons can be taught under the stars so pitching a tent forms a major component of Tanisha’s work: she was recently a guest mentor at ‘Indigicate Camp’, a five-day session in the Grampians for Victorian indigenous girls. “Out bush in tents with no power points or phone signal, you forget about everything else and focus on who is there and what is around us. It’s the perfect way to find ourselves again: we can get lost and we can lose sight of what’s really important so it’s great to be able to reconnect.”

As well, she has worked with the ‘Hands Together’ camp at Roses Gap in the Grampians for primary and secondary Aboriginal kids in out-of-home care, which involves canoeing, abseiling and cultural activities. “Some kids in the camp are in homes where their guardians were non-Indigenous,” explains Tanisha, “so it’s important to be able to have them involved with other Aboriginal kids their own age and to teach them their culture.”

Camping sessions don’t end there. For three years, Tanisha has been part of the ‘Baldau Yiooghen’ leadership camp for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander up-and-coming leaders. “We meet in Melbourne for a couple of days - touring Tennis Victoria, Gadolphin horse stables, Essendon Football Club and Melbourne Opera to show the youth work experience or job opportunities in these places - and then we travel to Darwin together for cultural activities.”

Changing tack, in terms of supporting other females, Tanisha is a member of Celebrating Sistas, a fortnightly indigenous women’s ‘Girls Night In’. “It’s a safe space: we want the women to feel safe enough to be themselves: no room for rumours, judgement or violence,” she explains. “In these sessions we have guest speakers, health expert visitors, arts and craft, cooking, movies. I love the idea of different generations of women coming so we allow little women as young as five to attend if the topic of the night is appropriate. So we have daughters, mothers, sisters, aunties and elders in our group. We all come together to learn from each other, and to stay connected to each other and our culture. This is for Aboriginal women but if the family has non-Indigenous and Indigenous members, we do not divide the families. I encourage the Non-Indigenous family members to come to connect and educate themselves as well.”

Art minded

Tanisha helps coordinate an all community Horsham art program, too: a place where people are welcome to come in and create an artwork with all costs covered. “Adults come during the day and the kids come after school. Some sessions are themed: for example, an artist from Halls Gap has taught the group how to use bush dyes and different patterns and techniques on silk and cotton. The idea is to give people a chance to express their creative sides but to also support emerging artists. Aboriginal art shouldn’t be a rare thing to see, I’d love it to be shared almost everywhere.”

Tanisha Lovett

Eye on the prize: award entry tips

In terms of winning the award last year, Tanisha believes the range of programs and the range of people she works with helped. “I’m not restricted to the town I’m in: I visit surrounding ones as well. I’m an Aboriginal leader that wants to have an impact and to inspire people to become leaders. I’m passionate about learning culture, sharing my knowledge and having a healthier, happier community.”

Understandably then, winning meant a lot for her. “It was the first major award I have won. I was a runner up in 2019 7NEWS Young Achiever Awards in the Melbourne Studio of Art category. Not winning knocked me back in my confidence a bit so when they announced me as the RDV winner I was genuinely shocked. It was a good example that I use for myself and people who doubt themselves, to never give up. Plus I’m still only 21 so it gives me great pride to be doing so much at a young age knowing I still have so many years that I can grow in to go.

“Being able to become a valuable community member for not only the Aboriginal community but others is one of my greatest achievements by far and I choose to only get bigger and better at what I do from here on in. Winning opened my eyes to what is achievable and it’s done the same for others.”

Tanisha’s advice to people thinking about entering the award this year? “Go for it, you have so much to gain, winner or not. If you lose, you learn from it and want to better yourself and try again. In the entry, list all your achievements, big and small. Be honest about who you are and where you aspire to be.”

Read up on the awards.

Regional Development Victoria is a proud supporter of the Regional Achievement and Community Awards.

If you’re feeling inspired we encourage you to nominate today. Or nominate a deserving member of your community. Entry is free.

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