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Learning on Country 10-year celebrations kick off at Nitmiluk National Park

[by Leah McLennan]

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Image: supplied

More than a hundred remote middle and senior school students, teachers, principals, rangers and coordinators from across the Northern Territory have come together at Nitmiluk National Park to celebrate 10 years of the Learning on Country Program.


The Learning on Country Program is a joint initiative between Aboriginal ranger groups and remote community schools that integrates ‘both ways learning’. Since its inception in 2012, the Learning on Country Program footprint has grown from four to 15 sites across the Top End of the Northern Territory.


Highlights of day one of the three-day event included presentations by the 15 sites, ranger activities with the Jawoyn Rangers, Nitmiluk cultural boat tours and cultural activities with the Banatjarl Strongbala Wimun Grup.


Tomorrow, on day two, members will attend the 49th Learning on Country Steering Committee meeting, while younger delegates come together for the Learning on Country Youth Forum. Day three features a feedback yarning circle, separate men’s and women’s sessions to explore Aboriginal leadership and a final dinner to celebrate the Learning on Country Program’s 10th birthday.


At the opening ceremony, Northern Land Council Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi welcomed the announcement from Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Linda Burney, that the NIAA funding for the Learning on Country Program will be extended for six years to 2028.


“The Northern Land Council is proud to administer the Learning on Country Program, which has gone from strength to strength over the last 10 years,” Mr Bush-Blanasi said.


"This funding will help ensure that more remote Indigenous students have access to an education pathway that supports them to walk strong in our culture and balanda culture.
“Our children are the future and I want to see them get the right education and go on to live healthy and fulfilling lives and care for their families, community and country – this Program creates that pathway for them.”


Learning on Country Chairwoman Cindy Jinmarabynana said "the Learning on Country Program gives the students’ knowledge and safety on country, and working with old people and Rangers ensures the important stories and connections are passed down to the next generation."


Northern Land Council Chief Executive Officer Joe Martin-Jard said "The Northern Land Council is proud to administer the Learning on Country Program – a truly inspirational learning pathway for Aboriginal students that has increased school retention and broadened pathways to employment. Seeing the knowledge and work ethic of the rangers and the enthusiasm of the Indigenous students is marvellous.


"The NLC strongly supports the desire of Traditional Owners for far more jobs in Aboriginal communities to be held by Aboriginal people. The Learning on Country is a pathway to real jobs for Aboriginal Territorians."


Learning on Country Coordinator, Shepherdson College, Galiwin’ku, Isaac Jansens said "Over 10 years the Learning on Country program has built a strong presence in Galiwin'ku, working collaboratively with Yolŋu elders, families, Gumurr Marthakal Rangers and local services to build authentic relationships that facilitate rich and meaningful intergenerational transfer of Indigenous Knowledge. The LOC program is deeply valued by community members, students and staff, and its impact on delivering genuine two-way outcomes for our young people is evident every time we head out on Country."


Learning on Country Coordinator, Laynhapuy Homelands, Yirrkala, Zach O’Connor said "The success of the Learning on Country Program shows the potential of Indigenous community empowerment and local decision making. Yolŋu education has been going on for thousands of years and the LoC Program acknowledges and values this, which empowers communities and captivates students to strive within a western system."


Learning on Country Coordinator, Dhimurru Rangers and Yirrkala School Partnership, Daniel McLaren said "The success of the Learning on Country Program is that it is driven by the community and what they want for their children. The Learning on Country Program places a high value on the transfer of traditional cultural knowledge and melds this into Land Management training and the regular school curriculum. This helps students to be strong within themselves and their culture and builds their capacity to be successful in both worlds."


Former Learning on Country Program student and now Djelk Ranger Jonah Ryan said "When Learning on Country started, I thought this is my opportunity to be a ranger. And ever since I got my green shirt on, I look at myself in the mirror and can’t believe that I made it. I’m a real ranger now. I can tell the young ones, ‘you don’t have to be really smart – you just need to be strong and hardworking so just keep moving forward’."


Learning on Country Program Coordinator, Shane Bailey said "Celebrating 10 years of continued Federal support and funding is testament to the success of the Learning on Country Program and the outcomes it achieves for remote Indigenous students. Importantly it also acknowledges the strong commitment of our schools, rangers and cultural stakeholders in growing this program into one of the most valued Indigenous ‘two-way’ educational programs to be delivered in the Top End."

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