In a recent announcement of the King's Birthday Honours, two exceptional First Nations women were recognized for their outstanding contributions to their communities. Caroline Hughes, an esteemed Ngunnawal Elder, was commended for her significant service to the Indigenous community of Canberra. Passionate about empowering others, Hughes has dedicated herself to promoting education and its transformative potential.
Hughes firmly believes in enabling thousands of Indigenous individuals to achieve their own successes through education. By encouraging education, she empowers them to break down barriers and create positive ripple effects in society. Additionally, Hughes has worked diligently to mitigate the impact of child protection practices on First Nations families. Implementing early learning programs for babies and children whose parents are studying nearby has proven to be a powerful tool in modeling beneficial behaviors for all.
"Being able to empower thousands of Indigenous people to achieve their own success through education has been rewarding. Education encourages them to raise their own voices to break down barriers – creating positive ripple effects for society," she said.
"I've witnessed people of all ages – teenagers and Elders – who had thought education was not for them. Yet they have achieved their goal and strived for more. I've seen staff thrive in positive and engaging workplaces. I love encouraging and inspiring others, empowering them in their choices and celebrating them when they reach their goals," she said.
Despite her tireless support for others, Hughes has faced adversity throughout her journey. Enduring racism and discrimination as an Ngunnawal woman, she humbly expressed her surprise and gratitude for being nominated for this honor. She extended her heartfelt appreciation to her husband Michael and children Tara and Mitchell, acknowledging their unwavering support. In closing, Hughes expressed her deep gratitude to the person who nominated her, while recognizing that many others are equally deserving of this recognition.
"I've suffered racism and discrimination for being Ngunnawal and as a woman. So I feel humble and shocked that someone thought so highly of me to nominate me," she said.
"I want to thank my husband Michael and children Tara and Mitchell. Their love and years of supporting me, whilst I supported others, have buoyed me up. Without them, I couldn't do what I do.
"Djan yimaba – thank you to the person who nominated me for this honour. I know there are many others who deserve this."
Another remarkable honoree is Sylvia Fay Stewart-Muir from Thomson, Victoria, who was acknowledged for her service to the Indigenous community of Victoria. Stewart-Muir's dedication to preserving her culture and supporting her community led to her being awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
Stewart-Muir identifies two significant areas of her service to the Indigenous community in Victoria. First, she brings the lived experience of an Indigenous person into school classrooms, fostering dialogue and facilitating a deeper understanding of Indigenous culture and history among students and teachers. Second, she provides invaluable support to Indigenous individuals within the prison system as a Koori Independent Prison Visitor (KIPV).
"For too long our education system has denied all students the opportunity to learn about the full history of this country. Both cohorts – students and teachers – need to hear stories of Indigenous people from a lived experience," she said.
"Working as a Cultural Educator in schools opens a dialogue and helps students and teachers to learn more about Indigenous Culture and history – first-hand, from an Indigenous person."
"Being a Koori Independent Prison Visitor (KIPV) also gives me reason to get up in the morning," she said.
Acknowledging her surprise at receiving this prestigious award, Stewart-Muir expressed her heartfelt gratitude to the unknown nominator. She emphasized the importance of her work in prisons, highlighting the positive impact of showing Indigenous individuals that an Elder genuinely cares about their well-being. Stewart-Muir finds immense satisfaction in engaging with incarcerated individuals, lending an empathetic ear and addressing their concerns on a personal level.
"Showing our people that when they come before the Magistrate that an Elder cares about them is important. I get great satisfaction if I know I am going to see the men inside to chat with them and listen to their problems. And for them to have my ear and one on one time if that is what they need."
"I would like to thank the nominator from the bottom of my heart. I do not know who it is but thank you," she said.
Additionally, Dushyanthi Thangiah from Annandale, Queensland, was honored for her remarkable efforts to bridge the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. Thangiah's service to the community through social welfare organizations was recognized as instrumental in ensuring culturally appropriate support for those seeking assistance.
"That allows clients to take positive control of their lives. My volunteer work helps build resilience in culturally diverse communities," she said.
"Community work runs in my blood. My mother and sisters are all in it. Working for the community gives me a real sense of purpose and keeps me grounded. I genuinely feel blessed to have the life I have been granted and be able to do the work I have been chosen to do."
Thangiah's volunteer work aims to empower clients to take control of their lives by providing culturally sensitive service responses. She finds purpose and grounding in her community work, viewing it as a calling that runs in her blood. Expressing her gratitude for the Medal of the Order of Australia, Thangiah thanked her parents for instilling strong values, her husband, daughters, and sisters for believing in her ability to effect change, and her mentors Dr. Ernest Hoolihan and Shri Angajan for guiding her through her life journey. She also acknowledged the support of the Yumba-Meta board and management.
"I am still trying to process it. It is such a prestigious award.
"Thanks to my parents for raising me with sound values, my husband, daughters, sisters and my extended family who believe in my ability to make a change. And my mentors Dr Ernest Hoolihan and Shri Angajan who have guided me through my life journey."
These extraordinary women, along with countless others, have made indelible contributions to their communities, leaving a lasting impact on the lives of many. Their recognition through the King's Birthday Honours serves as a testament to their unwavering dedication and tireless efforts to uplift and empower Indigenous individuals across Australia.
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Photo Courtesy National Indigenous Times
Courtesy National Indigenous Times