RECONCILIATION Week gives all Australians a chance to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.
To celebrate National Reconciliation Week 2019, the Wimmera Mail-Times spoke to five young Wimmera Indigenous leaders about what their culture means to them.
Andrew Harrison, 25, wears many hats in the Wimmera's Indigenous community. The Wotjobaluk man is Goolum Goolum Aboriginal Co-Operative's local justice worker. He has also been on the co-op's board of directors since he was 18.
"I have always been heavily involved with Goolum Goolum because I grew up in this community. I have had Uncles and Aunties who worked here," he said.
Mr Harrison's current role at the co-op sees him work with and support Indigenous community members who are in the justice system.
"The job ranges from supporting them at court and making sure they have legal representation, to making referrals into drug, alcohol and mental health counselling," he said.
"I have also re-established a Local Aboriginal Justice Action Committee, which consists of all the justice service providers in town. We discuss local issues that are happening on the ground level and create actions from there so we can work towards a better justice system.
"More often than not, with these types of roles, there are losses and wins. It's good when these kids are doing really good stuff, but when they slip up you really feel for them. It's just a matter of giving them the tools to want to help themselves because in the end it's up to them to build their own futures."
He said more young Indigenous people should get involved in their communities.
"Where I've started from in my own journey and not having the best upbringing, I've managed to find my way to a good path," he said.
"I've always thrown myself in the deep end of things and that's what I'd tell the young ones to do. I've been on the board of directors for six years and I'm still learning stuff. I've learned that no question is a dumb question and to always ask questions if you're unsure - that's the only way we can better ourselves."
Another role Mr Harrison is proud of is his involvement in the Koorie Youth Council of Victoria.
"Their whole aim in a nutshell is to advocate on behalf of young Aboriginal people on parliament level. They talk about the big issues from a young perspective," he said.
Mr Harrison said Reconciliation Week was important to him.
"Reconciliation means to me that my mob and all the other Aboriginal people around the nation are the strongest people I know. We've managed to adapt to the white man's way even after 60,000-plus years and all we've lost," he said.
"Reconciliation won't rebuild our past but it will provide us with a future for our people to rise and reach new heights. It also helps to inspire those who wish to follow in their ancestors' footsteps to not only lead their communities but hopefully one day lead this country."
Horsham College Koori leader Cody Vigenser, 16, has been in his role with Teagan Muir for several years.
"We help run activities for Reconciliation Week and attend meetings to implement ideas, which we do quite frequently. It's also important as young Indigenous people to feel connected with our culture and family," he said.
Cody said Reconciliation Week was about teaching non-Indigenous Australians about Aboriginal culture.
Students at Horsham College took part in a range of activities for the week, including Koorie dancing, art classes and a game of Marngrook football.
Teagan Muir, 17, said her role as a Horsham College Koori leader had helped her develop leadership skills.
"We get younger Koori students to look up to us as leaders. We try to do everything we can to help the younger kids. I grew up looking up to older kids and now I'm a leader," she said.
She said one of the most important things young Indigenous Australians could do was learn their languages.
"It's important to what the languages mean and how to pronounce them. As an Aboriginal woman, you don't want to lose the languages, you want it to keep going over generations," she said.
"Reconciliation Week is about reconciling the past and knowing what our past was about. It's also about bringing our cultures together as one. Our art and culture dancing are really important things to show others."
Teagan made the Acknowledgement of Country at her school's Reconciliation Week smoking ceremony and school assembly.
Lachlan Marks, 26, has been involved with Goolum Goolum since he was a child.
The Wotjobaluk man took up a position on the co-operative's board this year.
"I got asked to be a role model for the younger kids. It's been pretty full on, but good. At the moment I'm just going to the meetings to learn more about it. It is a good experience for young people to join leadership roles so they can learn about things," he said.
Mr Marks is a dancer and has helped start a junior dance group for young Indigenous children.
"We get the kids to come along and watch a few dances, and they can join in if they want to," he said.
"It's hard for young Indigenous kids to sit down and read, for instance, because our culture is more oral. We talk to our kids about culture. So the dancing is a big part of it."
He said the biggest issue facing Indigenous Australians was racism.
"I got taught that racism is harsh, but it's something you need to just brush off and not react to," he said.
He said Reconciliation Week meant a lot to him, and helped the Indigenous community and non-Indigenous community build a stronger relationship.
"People can keep the message of reconciliation going by coming to events and starting conversations," he said.
Goolum Goolum board member Louise King, 19, said she had been involved with the co-operative "forever". The Wotjobaluk woman joined the board at the end of last year.
"Johnny (Gorton) is my uncle and my mum works here too. I was encouraged (to join the board) by others and it was also something I wanted to do. There aren't many young people wanting to do that kind of role. I have learned more about how Goolum Goolum works behind the scenes," she said.
Ms King said although she hadn't faced any challenges as a young Indigenous person, she acknowledged that others might not have the same experience.
"I haven't really faced any challenges. The community can and can't be supportive. You obviously have people who aren't supportive, but you have that in every community," she said.
She encouraged other young Indigenous people to take leadership roles in their communities.
"It helps you come out of your shell a lot. Before doing it I was scared, but I just did it to show the younger generations that it's up to us to step up and help out," she said.
To Ms King, Reconciliation Week was a chance for all community members to come together. She also said it was important to keep conversations happening throughout the year.
"Just because it's happening for one week doesn't mean we need to stop talking about it, it's something that needs to be talked about continuously," she said.
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