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"We are the first diplomats" - Ambassador for First Nations People Justin Mohamed

Jess Whaler -

As part of the Australian Capital Territory's NAIDOC Week Celebrations, Pipeline Talent/Recruitment delivered a sold-out event that highlighted a week of festivities in the nation's capital.

The 'Leadership Luncheon' curated to inspire Blak Excellence, delivered a panel discussion featuring prominent figures such as the Department of Foreign Affairs' newly appointed Indigenous Ambassador Goreng Goreng man Justin Mohamed; 2023 Canberra Citizen of the Year ACT and Officer of the Order of Australia Wiradjuri woman Katrina Fanning; and Strategic Advisor for the Uluru Dialogue Yuwullarai woman Kirstie Parker.

Mundanara Bayles, Katrina Fanning, Kirstie Peters and Ambassador Justin Monammed

The events proceedings commenced with a Welcome to Country by Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri man Billy Tompkins a well-known advocate for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, who ensured the crowd observed one-minute of silence to pay respect to a respected elder that has passed before welcoming all to Ngunnawal Country.

The Managing Director and Facilitator of Blackcard, Mundanara Bayles, hosted the event. Ms Bayles is connected to the Wonnarua and Bunjalung people on her mother's side and the Birri-Gubba and Gungalu on her father's side.

Ms Bayles introduced Ambassador Mohamed who spoke about his position with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, sharing that the role was not even on his radar twelve months ago.

"We are the first diplomats... It's about time there is an Ambassador for First Nations people."

Ambassador Mohamed has formerly held positions such as Deputy Secretary of Aboriginal Justice in the Victorian Government, Chief Executive Officer for Reconciliation Australia and as the Chairperson of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and has attended international event such as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

He spoke on how common it is for Indigenous people to experience imposter syndrome, or to have feelings like you shouldn't be in leadership roles. He advised that when this self-talk appears, he has learned to question that negativity.

He said that it was through consultation with his wife, Adjunct Professor Janine Mohamed, a proud Narrunga Kaurna woman and Chief Executive Officer of the Lowitja Institute, and family and Elders, that he gained the confidence to take on the role of Ambassador.

Through his diplomacy work thus far, Ambassador Mohamed has learned that other countries and Nations without Indigenous people refer to our First Nations people as the "knowledge holders".

"I didn't realise there was so many white people when I went to school."

He shared how difficult it can be navigating spaces as a minority, learning when and when not to speak up.

Quoting Dr Mark Wenitong, Ambassador Mohamed said: "Make sure you know who you are, who your mob is and where you're from" and the rest will fall into line and that would be my advice to any young person here, the rest of it will fall into line because that's where your strength is."

Katrina Fanning's advice to First Nations people in the workforce was to find people that you can talk to and reset yourself against, and just know that you're not alone in it. She said: "There's certain times when you have to decide, is that a step to far."

Referring to her challenging time being involved with the Emergency Northern Territory response, she shared that she called her Aunty for advice and was hoping the Aunty would say: 'Tell them all to get stuffed and walk out' and she said you can do that, but who sits at the table if you go?"

Ms Fanning's further guidance was: "don't be afraid to fail, don't just stay with what you are comfortable with, but you know, you can learn from mistakes you can recover from them but if you don't ever test yourself or stretch yourself you are really going to limit your opportunities."

She added: "As long as you are listening when you fail, it's okay."

When Ms Parker spoke her passion for culture was clear and empowering, sharing that she comes from a large and mighty family "my mum was the oldest of eighteen kids and our family and our kin, our extended clan we come from an ancestor, an Yuwallarai ancestor whose name translates literally to big heart. What we bring is love of each other and love of our culture and love of our country. The way we roll, is that we show up for each other and we show up for country and that has informed me throughout my career, I want to show up for all of our people, all of the time".

Yuwullarai woman Kirstie Parker

Yuwullarai woman Kirstie Parker who is one of the leaders behind the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

On the Voice to Parliament, Ms Parker said: "this is an idea that hasn't just come, it came decades ago, the fact that it seems like a new and novel idea to ask our people how to go about the things that impact on us is nuts, but here we are, so I will always say to people, this is the truth".

"My mum was a domestic servant, and she was in a role where she was discouraged from having a voice so now, I am always going to speak up even if my voice shakes," she said.

Ms Parker delivered a lasting message: "back yourself, but also back others because alone we are probably all pretty powerful or have the potential to be powerful, but together we are absolutely unbeatable."

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