An activist through and through, proud Gumbaynggirr/Dunghutti woman and First Peoples Disability Network Deputy CEO June Riemer is the 2021 NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year.

Riemer was nominated beside powerful Aboriginal women including Women’s Legal Service NSW’s Dixie Link-Gordon, Aboriginal Employment Strategy CEO Kristy Masella and Walgett consultant and trainer Dr Cynthia Briggs.

“I am very humbled, it was a bit of a surprise … there were so many strong advocates,” Riemer told NIT.

“As always everyone deserves the award, but it is really good to be acknowledged. I’ve been around for a while but like most of us I just get on with the work and do what we can to make change.”

With over four decades of advocacy, Riemer works today to ensure the voices of First Nations peoples living with disability are heard at a government and policy level.

“The work has always been fighting the good fight for those who don’t know how to navigate systems that were never built for them, and more importantly, in the last 10 to 15 years, strong advocacy for those with a disability across our country,” Riemer said.

“I am trying to be a voice for those that cannot have their voice heard.”

Riemer says her love for activism was spurred by the women in her family.

“I am the eldest granddaughter, I belong to the Foley mob up from Gumbaynggirr Country on the north coast of New South Wales. The women in our family have always been very strong and that goes back to my grandmother,” she said.

“We always knew to fight for what was right and support one another. As with a lot of Aboriginal families, we do have people with difference in our families, but it is always about supporting one another and supporting them to be included and have a voice.

“Advocacy comes naturally to Aboriginal people.”

With strong role models, Riemer found her own voice.

“I only went to [school until] Year 10, I always read a lot and understood there was a bigger world out there. It gave me purpose and it made me know that it was okay for me to have a voice as a woman and that I could make change,” she said.

“Both my mother and my grandmother were strong Blak women, along with all my aunties. They didn’t get to have their voices heard in a lot of circumstances so, for me, I am their voice also.”

With many spilling into the streets to protest gendered violence, Riemer noted the power of moments in history such as these for building new leaders.

“We haven’t seen marches like this in a long time, but for little ones to see their aunties or their mother at this event, they know that it is okay to stand up and be counted,” she said.

“It is okay for them to have a voice in their equality.”

“That is what we are asking for, whether it is people with a disability or anyone who has suffered injustices in whatever manner. We are asking for them to be heard. And to be heard loud and clear.

“The change is coming, and if it takes our women [to do it] — it will come.”

By Rachael Knowles