Real lives: Peter Nathan

Indigenous Australian youth delegate

With Oxfam Australia’s support, Peter Nathan had the opportunity to meet some of Australia’s Indigenous leaders making a difference on the world stage.

“In April 2008, I embarked on my biggest journey. I was given the opportunity to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) in New York. The blood ran cold in my body when I began to think about the enormity of the event. Also I asked myself the question, ‘Why was I chosen?’ The journey, let alone the opportunity, was to become the most defining moment in my life.

“After 27 hours on three planes, I was finally in New York, literally on the other side of the world. There were high hopes in the youth camp.

We were about to join in the tide of struggle which many of our fathers, mothers, and grandparents have already lived through, the struggle of Indigenous people, a valiant and long historical fight in which we were about to join on the global stage.

We were about to join in the tide of struggle which many of our fathers, mothers, and grandparents have already lived through, the struggle of Indigenous people, a valiant and long historical fight in which we were about to join on the global stage.

“Finally we were able to walk the halls of the United Nations, as so many world leaders had done. Lining the walls of the lower levels were photos of the various Indigenous peoples who had attended previous sessions of the UNPFII. Aboriginals from many nations stared down from the walls at us, either welcoming us to the fight or warning us of the struggle. I felt honoured to take in the smells of the building and to feel the warmth of the people, which seemed to melt away any dismay and nerves I had.

“Upon meeting the Australian Aboriginal delegation, I was instantly star struck. There stood in front of me Aden Ridgeway (former Australian Senator and host of Message Stick [an Australian Broadcasting Corporation program]) and Tom Calma (Social Justice Commissioner). These two men have always walked into the debate of Indigenous Australian inequality and come out with their heads high. I was in awe of the people who stood before me: lawyers, doctors, barristers, professors, entrepreneurs. All of whom had one thing in common: they were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, blackfellas. I instantly felt pride grow in my heart and knew for certain that I had come to the right place. For there was no hierarchy, everyone was equal.

“I soaked up any and all knowledge I could, and sought out networking with people who have begun to address these problems. I felt for the first time that I was learning new things, and relevant issues that could progress my community and wider Aboriginal Australia. I was there to find answers to assist Mornington Island and to bring our stories to the world stage. I went as the vehicle for promoting our struggle in our small corner of the world. This gave me hope that one voice can make a difference within a busy and loud society, as there are people listening.

I went as the vehicle for promoting our struggle in our small corner of the world. This gave me hope that one voice can make a difference within a busy and loud society, as there are people listening.

“When the youth delegates met Mick Dodson and other Indigenous leaders at the UN, we could openly express our views and also question how the UN process works. I felt as if I was in the company of greatness, as these are the people who the global Indigenous community entrust to lead the fight against Indigenous peoples’ inequality. Yet they were willing to sit down and listen to us.

“Fourteen days of international politics reinvigorated my spirit and allowed for me to observe where my focus should be. Being on the world stage gave me confidence to meet the needs of the community and voice our issues at home. I felt enormous pride at representing Indigenous Australian Youth at the UNPFII, however, felt more pride in being welcomed back home. My hope is that my representation pushes others to strive for such journeys. I was never given the opportunity to meet with such driven people when I was a child. I intend to inject my passion and persistence for change, to ensure that we don’t have only one person from Mornington Island doing these international forums, but many.

“We as Indigenous Australians must know that our fight is not only within Australia but also sits on the global stage with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. As one we will make a difference.”

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