Aunty Sharon Atkinson believes cultural appreciation is an experience that has to be learned, not forced, and something that can sometimes take a lifetime to develop.
The Shepparton indigenous elder has spent the past few weeks delivering a number of cultural workshops aimed at youth, sharing expertise she picked up through her roles in health and education, child and public service and mental health.
She has been instrumental in developing community programs targeted at indigenous communities, and her focus now is on a revival of the Yorta Yorta language.
As part of the 2017 Cultural Leadership Program that will run until the end of May, Aunty Sharon has spoken about the political and social context of Aboriginal people in Australian history, as well as the traditional kinship and social structure now and leading into the future.
‘‘It’s about making sure they reflect back on genealogy structures and knowing their role as a young person in the community and in their family,’’ Aunty Sharon said.
‘‘These days a lot of young people have an identity crisis, so regardless of whether they’re Aboriginal or not, they sometimes don’t know where they fit into the world.
‘‘The ability to identify language and culture provides them with confidence, and once you have that you have the strength to do things you’re passionate about in life.’’
An initiative of the Greater Shepparton City Council, headspace Shepparton and Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, the first cultural leadership program for Shepparton has been developed over the past year.
Its purpose is to engage young people and develop programs that will inspire future cultural leaders.
The six-week program for high school-aged adolescents allows the opportunity to gain local cultural knowledge, language, sharing of stories, and the ability to lead and affect change through community development.
Aunty Sharon said most indigenous Australians had a basic knowledge of culture, but it had been put on the back-burner as issues of the modern world took centre stage.
‘‘I never really appreciated my Aboriginality until I had to talk more about it,’’ Aunty Sharon said.
‘‘It is a slow process, but I don’t believe that should be a setback. It takes a while to really take control of who you are and finally see yourself in a better light of day.’’