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After finishing HSC trials at Wenona where she boards, Yolngu girl Shakeira Mununggurr went to the GARMA festival held at spiritual site Gulkula near Nhulunbuy in northeast Arnhem Land, to receive an award on behalf of her late grandmother.
Shakeira and her sisters, Mahalia and Budat, together accepted the award on behalf of their grandmother, Ms Gurruwiri. It was presented by the Yothu Yindi Foundation for Ms Gurruwiri’s lifetime achievements in education and leadership in the Yolngu community.
On stage with Shakeira for the ceremony were Ms Gurruwiri’s three children, three other grandchildren and a great grandchild as well as Prime Minister, The Hon. Mr Malcolm Turnbull, and Yothu Yindi Foundation representatives. Shakeira explained that, in any ceremony or ‘bungul’ at important moments in life, your clan will sing about where you came from and about where you get to or finished.
“So my grandmother’s clan, my mari pulu, sang about her life and how she led her people,” Shakeira said. “I felt so proud accepting the award.”
Now it looks as if Shakeira might follow in her grandmother’s footsteps. At GARMA, Shakeira was invited to take part in the Youth Forum where she sat in the same seat as her grandmother when Ms Gurruwiri used to talk to youth about the importance of education for Indigenous people and how it would open doors for her Yolgnu people.
In this same chair, on a panel of seven at the Youth Forum, Shakeira spoke about the inequality of opportunities for sound education and other Indigenous issues. From that point, people started listening and inviting her to speak up: she was invited to lunch with the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Mr Michael Gunner, and met Prime Minister Mr Malcom Turnbull. Next, she appeared on ABC TV current affairs panel program Q&A which had invited questions to be submitted by Youth Forum panel members.
Shakeira had an ancient, ceremonial story painted in ochres – the rainbow serpent – to represent her grandmother for the potential Q&A appearance. When her moment came, Shakiera clearly put her question to Northern Territory Senator and Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Hon. Nigel Scullion, asking was he “serious about addressing housing issues many indigenous people face?”. Housing is a critical issue where her family lives in Yirrikala, Arnhem Land.
“I felt I was suddenly starting to become a leader for my people, and felt my cousins, brothers and sisters were looking to me, asking questions,” she said, admitting she wants that feeling to grow.
“I want to inspire my two-year-old niece - and for her to grow up in an environment where we are educated and speaking up and being heard.”