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ACT NAIDOC Person of the Year: Ngambri-Ngunnawal Papunya Connors

Jess Whaler -

Each year the highly anticipated ACT NAIDOC Ball highlights a week of celebrations in the territory, with a primary drawcard of the event, the presentation of the 2023 NAIDOC ACT Person of the Year.

It came as no surprise to many, when this year's prestigious award was presented to a well-known community member Papunya (Panya) Connors, for her outstanding work within the local Indigenous community.

Ms Connors is a proud Ngambri-Ngunnawal woman who holds strong a reputation for being a fierce advocate for her community and happens to be the niece of this year's National Elder of the Year, Dr Aunty Matilda House.

For many years Ms Connors has been on the ground providing endless contributions to improve outcomes for First Nations persons within the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and has been vocal about the need to address the underlying issues of poverty, social inequality, and institutional racism that have historically affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"I do the work that I do, so that my mob are healthy and happy. Living within the community I see the struggles that my mob go through every day, I see the gaps and challenges they face, and It's not me working for them, it's me working with them," she said.

In 2016, Ms Connors along with her family members established the Young Black and Deadly (YBAD) Warriors rugby league team, to raise awareness for suicide prevention and mental health in Aboriginal communities.

Ms Connors serves as both a member of the Domestic Violence Prevention Council and Domestic Violence Prevention Council Reference Advisory Group, she is also the Indigenous Support & Accommodation Cultural Practice Leader for EveryMan, Australia's Indigenous Support and Accommodation team in Canberra and has been recognised for her work helping Indigenous families in the ACT who are at risk of homelessness.

"I am here to make sure they are included in their decision making, feel culturally safe, and are healthy and happy. I am here to stand with them because without them I wouldn't be here. We are here to change the narrative and we are doing that together" she said.

Recognised as a key player in the Ngambri supreme court case, a spokesperson advised that Ms Connors' research and contributions were essential to the feat, which saw a historic move under the Human Rights Act, with the ACT Government recognising the right of Aboriginal people to self-determination.

"This was important not to lose the recognition for Ngunnawal people, but for Ngambri people to be recognised. This was a long process that included endless research, late nights, and a heavy workload. We faced resistance, but it was worth it," she said.

"It was worth it because we gained insight and an opportunity to reconnect with our culture at its core. We reclaimed our identity, and enjoyed the process of talking to our Elders, joining Yarning Circles and being at one within a special space."

Following the court case, the ACT Government released a statement: "We acknowledge that individuals and families who identify as Ngambri (Kamberri) have determined that they are traditional custodians of land within the ACT and surrounding regions, and that other people and families may also identify as having a traditional connection to this land."

Coming from a longline of advocates and activists, Ms Connors said: "My mother and grandmother fought this fight but unfortunately passed before we were able to progress with meaningful steps towards our goal. We are proud of what we have achieved for the Ngambri people, and this is why the recognition from NAIDOC is so important."

She has recently identified the need for community support navigating services and is now in the process of forming a community organisation titled EveryMob, which will be designed to further support the Indigenous population across multiple service programs within Canberra and surrounds.

Having provided the community with endless contributions already and now with an ACT NAIDOC Award under her belt and a new organisation underway, 2023 is set to be a big year for this incredible person and for the ACT Indigenous Community.

More information about EveryMan is available online.

If you, or someone you know, are feeling worried or no good, please connect with 13YARN on 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days) and talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Supporter.

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