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First Nations student connects to culture during residential school  

[by Nicole Barlow]

Ms Dhani Gilbert at Wagga Beach during residential school. Image supplied

Charles Sturt University student Miss Dhani Gilbert is already paving the way for First Nations equality, inclusion, recognition and understanding.

The proud Lachlan River Wiradjuri woman lives, works and studies in Canberra on the beautiful lands of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri Peoples.

She graduated from high school in 2019 and is currently studying a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Environment and Sustainability at the Australian National University.

Ms Gilbert is an activist for First Nations rights and knowledge, garnering her honours such as Young Canberra Citizen of the Year 2018, ACT NAIDOC Youth of the Year 2018, ACT NAIDOC Scholar of the Year 2018, ACT Miss NAIDOC 2019 and the ACT Young Landcare Leadership Award 2019.

Ms Gilbert has previously completed a foundational Wiradjuri language course with her family and Elders, who encouraged her to hone her language, community-building and leadership skills by enrolling in the Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage at Charles Sturt.

“I am passionate about community, our environment, Wiradjuri revitalisation, justice and supporting young people’s aspirations in these spaces,” she said.

“The Charles Sturt University course complements the work I do in the community and the learning my family, community, Elders and current university studies provide.

“Charles Sturt provides a strong community-orientated learning environment that supports Wiradjuri People to come together to continue Wiradjuri language revitalisation and self-determination.”

Ms Gilbert was in Wagga Wagga recently to complete her residential school for course IKC400 – Wiradjuri Culture and Heritage.

The residential school for this course included 45 students who participated with an additional 20 students who could not attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.

COVID-safe measures were taken, including outdoor classes to avoid enclosed spaces, social distancing, regular hand sanitising and the omission of the Wiradjuri singing lessons due to restrictions on group singing events.

Among the highlights of the residential school teachings, including outdoor learning sessions at the river, was that Ms Gilbert was able to share it with her father Mr Euroka Gilbert and her aunty Ms Kate Thomann who were also completing the course.

“It is a really unique and special time being on course with my dad and my beautiful aunty, which I have really loved,” she said.

“With other family members, we had previously been doing a foundational Wiradjuri language course with Aunty Elaine Lomas, who is a fantastic tutor for the Graduate Certificate.

“We were all encouraged to keep going and are really happy to be able to do that together.”

Ms Gilbert believes First Nations knowledge provides solutions for a more just and sustainable future and hopes to pursue a career as a field ecologist and science communicator, using First Nations practices to care for country.

“First Nations knowledge is legitimate, time-tested and holds solutions for issues we face in our communities and environment,” she said.

“I want to use the knowledge I am being gifted by my Elders and community to better advocate for First Nations ways … and I hope to be a part of breaking down barriers to facilitate better two-way learning between scientific knowledge and First Nations communities.”

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