Youth engagement

Young people and PBCs

This information is for young people interested in native title and for PBCs looking to involve young people in their business and activities.

It is very important for young people to have ongoing involvement in the work of their PBC or native title claim. Below are some ideas for youth engagement and some of the programs available to help grow leadership skills within the native title sector.

Each community has their own perspective on what age range or level of knowledge and experience constitutes youth and, therefore, the information on this page is kept broad. Some examples of successful PBCs and their methods to get young people involved are shared below. The How to get involved with PBCs workbook for youth and the Communicating with youth workbook for PBC provide useful resources and tips on starting this process.

Why is youth involvement important?

Young people make up a significant proportion of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and are the future leaders of PBCs and other community organisations. In order to harness their skills and perspective and prepare them for leadership and decision-making roles in PBCs, investment in mentoring and training is key. Cultural, corporate and native title knowledge transmission to the younger generation as well as succession planning will ensure the sustainability of PBCs.

AIATSIS has researched how youth is experiencing native title. The results can be found in the ‘What do young fellas reckon? Exploring the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in native title’ paper.

AIATSIS identified that many young native title holders and claimants already possess a good understanding of the native title system, whether they live on country or not. They are eager to be involved in native title and take up leadership and decision-making roles in the future. Despite this, they often feel disconnected from their native title organisations and feel that they do not have the skills or knowledge they need to contribute to their native title claims or PBCs. PBCs have a crucial role to play in engaging and inspiring young people, and helping the transfer of power and knowledge from generation to generation.

Engaging young people can also be highly beneficial to PBCs. Young Indigenous Australians increasingly pursue tertiary education and employment away from country. The Closing the Gap Report 2020 notes that the proportion of Indigenous 20–24 year-olds who completed Year 12 has increased from 45 per cent in 2008, to 66 per cent in 2019. This means young people are equipped with formal educational skills and expertise that can be invested back into their local community.

The fresh insight and perspective that young people can bring to their native title organisations should also be respected and harnessed. Combining the new skills of the younger generations with the knowledge and experience of elders is key to community wellbeing and ensuring that PBCs can manage their native title interests and do the work they aspire to.

With opportunity and guidance to do so, young people can use their native title to continue down the path of sustainable self-determination. As the Uluru Statement from the Heart said, young Indigenous Australians should be the hope for the future.

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ready and eager to be involved in native title and the various activities that their PBCs engage in, but need to be armed with the skills, knowledge and connections to do so. With the support, training and mentoring of PBCs, young people will become the next generation of leaders. The first step is engagement.

Models of youth engagement

There are many ways to engage young people, both formal and informal. The following models provide guidance and are adaptable to your local community.

The great diversity of cultures, languages, kinship structures and ways of life among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia is reflected in young people This means local approaches to engagement are essential. Although state, territory or national level training can be beneficial, youth engagement should be tailored to the local context to ensure its success. This is also important as young people value and get a lot out of working and learning on country. It is therefore mutually beneficial for PBCs and young people to create opportunities on country.

PBCs planning on working more with their young people should ask:

  1. Have we talked to our young people and asked them how they want to be involved?
  2. Are we already doing things to engage young people of our area in PBC related work?
  3. How can these be expanded or what new projects can we start to increase youth engagement?
  4. Do these or will these methods meet the specific needs of youth in our area?

Gradually introducing young people to decision-making processes can build interest and comfort in long-term participation. Also, the more varied the approaches, the more young people will be engaged. This means that a range of methods and developing involvement over time is the best way to ensure long term engagement from a wide number of young people.

A lack of resources can be a barrier engaging youth for some PBCs. Consider how to use existing resources and expertise, and which methods use the least resources. For example, incorporating young people into events or activities your PBC already does may be the easiest and most practical place to start.

There is no set age for starting involvement in a PBC. Murdi Paak young leader Isabelle Orcher says that people should be involved from as young as possible as exposure to community governance can create positive learning experiences and opportunities.

Watch Isabelle Orcher talk about the organisation’s young leaders program and succession planning.

This selection of models can be used by themselves or in combination to engage youth, foster their capabilities and tap into their ideas and aspirations.

Model

Benefits

How to do it

Mentoring

Ongoing discussions and observation that supports long term connection and exposure to the PBC, proven to be the most successful engagement strategy.

Family mentoring and PBC mentoring programs. Youth friendly meetings.

Youth training

Training tailored to the needs of young people facilitates questions, discussion and networks.

Offer tailored training and support attendance at external training and workshops.

Youth representation

Empowerment of young people to have an active role in governance through youth advisory councils or youth board positions.

Establish youth advisory structures within or that report to the PBC board.

Community events

Increase general awareness, create closer community relationships and PBC connections with young persons.

Host events that supports the community to come together (e.g. barbeques, small fairs or markets, sporting events).

Mentoring

AIATSIS found that active and ongoing mentorship by family members was the most significant indicator of young people’s level of knowledge, participation and confidence in native title and other community governance processes. Talking to family members and tagging along to meetings to observe is an invaluable way to learn about native title, governance and leadership.

For young people without close connections within a PBC, mentoring can be facilitated through mentoring programs or by enabling youth spaces at the PBC office, at meetings and events. PBC directors or members could be assigned as a mentor to a young person from their community for casual yarns about what they do, their involvement in PBC business, and about native title generally. This establishes a continuing relationship, creating a comfortable space for both mentoree and mentor to learn from each other.

Youth spaces at family meetings

Family and/or large group meetings (often required in native title processes) are a great opportunity to bring together young people to observe and participate in governance and decision-making. However, research conducted by AIATSIS found that many young people don’t feel comfortable speaking at large family gatherings.

To address this and as a way of creating additional benefit to these gatherings, it may be beneficial to include youth specific yarning circles. These youth yarning circles create safe spaces for young people to discuss their ideas freely with the option to put forward any joint outcomes or questions to the larger group. A great leadership and development opportunities as some young people may want to facilitate these sessions and report outcomes back to the group.

Youth targeted events and training

AIATSIS found that young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can feel a lack of skills to contribute to their PBC or representative body. Training will equip youth with this knowledge and confidence.

Events, such as youth forums or summits, can be held with education and provide a safe space for knowledge sharing. These events can help young people to feel like they’re not alone in their experience and comfortable in asking questions. It is important that young people feel supported to learn and that they have a valuable contribution to make. At the Bigambul Youth Summit young Bigambul people were brought together to get to know each other, learn about native title and governance, contribute to their PBC’s planning activities, and learn from their elders on country.

Example - Bigambul Youth Summit

Young Bigambul people from the border region between New South Wales and Queensland speak about their experience as part of the 2019 Bigambul Youth Summit.

Example – National Native Title Conference Youth Forum

The National Native Title Conference Youth Forums are an example of a national events attended by young people across the country. Young people aged 18-35 learn about native title and PBC governance in a youth only space. The results found in the 2016 Youth Forum Report highlight the benefits of such events. Participants expressed that the forum was an important opportunity for young Indigenous delegates from across Australia to come together to identify common problems and potential solutions. It also allowed delegates from different communities, with different PBCs, to learn from each other. Afterwards, the group established a network to continue the work started at the forum. Continuing to incorporate presentations by and specific to young people was recommended. For an example of the power of such presentations, watch Murrawah Johnson’s keynote address from the 2017 Conference. This general guide for how to plan a youth forum can be referred to as an aid if you are considering hosting a similar event.

Native title and governance training is offered by a range of different organisations, including AIATSIS, ORIC, the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre and the Australian Governance Institute. Although not always native title specific, they help develop general governance and leadership skills and forge important connections. A selection of existing programs available can be found in this workbook. Your PBC may choose to run its own training sessions tailored to their organisation and local circumstances, or encourage and financially support youth to attend other programs.

Community events

Another trend revealed by the AIATSIS study was that a lot of young people feel disconnected from their representative organisation. Hosting casual community events such as BBQs or trips on country can foster connectedness, make youth feel at ease and strengthen the PBC as a whole. Community events have the added benefit of increasing general awareness and creating closer community relationships enabling the PBC to effectively work towards improving community wellbeing. Such events also allow direct contact with the young persons in your area which is important for engagement.

Resources

Materials such as flyers, webpages or most importantly social media posts on native title, your PBC and how to get involved are useful resources for young people looking to get involved. The more accessible the information the greater impact it will have. Organisations involved in native title, including AIATSIS, the National Native Title Tribunal, ORIC and native title representative bodies and land councils (e.g. the Central Land Council), often have introductory information and factsheets on native title on their websites. See the youth workbook for a list.

Youth Advisory Councils

Youth advisory councils are a formal and organised way to involve youth in decision-making. They also provide important opportunities for young people to be directly exposed to organising, governing and formally making decisions. Some communities have a structure whereby a delegate of a youth advisory council may sit on the formal governing group of a larger organisation, bring the voice of young people directly into the decision making structures of the group. 

Example Robe River Kuruma (RRK) Youth Council

The Robe River Kuruma Aboriginal Corporation RNTBC (RRKAC) established a youth development program including the RRK Youth Council, representing RRK young people aged 15 to 25. It aims to foster and encourage emerging leaders to speak up and have a voice about the needs and aspirations of RRK young people.

Youth Directors

Another common strategy to engage young people in the governance of an organisation is to create youth-specific director positions. These positions may be full positions or shadow/observer positions where young people can observe governing processes. Research conducted by AIATSIS in partnership with the Bigambul Native Title Aboriginal Corporation has demonstrated that youth specific director positions as a great way to identify emerging leaders, bring them into decision making roles early and provide mentorship and professional development opportunities.

PBC membership and participation

Becoming members of their PBCs was identified as a solution to increase youth engagement by attendees at the 2016 Native Title Conference Youth Conference. Encouraging young people to become members is a great way of creating a network of young people engaged in your PBC.

One way to increase youth involvement is to schedule PBC meetings within school and university holidays. Many younger people live away from home for higher education or work. Holding AGMs in the periods where most young people have returned home gives them the opportunity to attend. Partner this with some childcare at meetings means youth who might have caring responsibilities can also attend. Meetings should be youth friendly spaces that make young people feel comfortable contributing to discussion.

Further resources

Past events