cultural camp for aboriginal youth

Innovative Culture Camp to Revive Traditions for Aboriginal Youth

Not-for-profit and out-of-home care provider, Pathfinders, launched its first indigenous Cultural Camp back in 2017 to help Aboriginal youth reconnect with their culture.

Held at The Willows in Glen Innes, New South Wales, during the October school holidays the four day camp addressed the loss of transmission of cultural knowledge from generation to generation. Aboriginal children and young people in out-of-home care throughout New South Wales were invited to attend.

Sally McLennan, Senior Manager of Pathfinders’ Out-of-Home Care program, said ensuring Aboriginal children remain connected to their culture is one of the most critical issues facing children and young people in care and is a key issue that staff working in out-of-home care need to manage.

“A lot of our kids struggle with their cultural identity because they haven’t been given the opportunity to learn and explore their culture and family origins. It falls within our responsibility as out-of-home care providers and carers to help our kids reconnect with their culture, and that’s exactly what we’re aiming for with the Pathfinders Cultural Camp.”

Sally McLennan

Hilton Naden, Pathfinders National Aboriginal Birth Certificate program coordinator, organised the camp with the Pathfinders Out-of-Home Care program and the support of the Glen Innes Aboriginal Land Council.

Hilton, a proud Wiradjuri man, said he grew up getting his groceries and tools from the bush and forest. With modern facilities and the ease of driving to the shops, however, a lot of traditional cultural techniques such as hunting and gathering are becoming a lost art, he said.

“The children and young people at the Pathfinders Cultural Camp will participate in Aboriginal traditions and activities that they might otherwise never get to experience. Having Aboriginal staff and community Elders attend and conduct a smoking ceremony, tell ghost stories and teach traditional song, dance and artwork will authenticate the experience and help bring these rich traditions back for the kids.”

Hilton Naden

Cultural Camp experience

Thirty-three Aboriginal kids from the Northern, Western, Hunter New England and Sydney Districts of New South Wales immersed themselves in traditional art and customs at the inaugural Pathfinders Cultural Camp. From cooking kangaroo stew and damper to participating in separate women’s and men’s business, the kids spent their last week of school holidays at Indigenous protected land, reviving traditions and engaging in their Aboriginal culture.

The kids who attended ranged from 8 years to 16 years old and came from a mix of foster care and residential care backgrounds. Five sets of siblings and families reunited and enjoyed the engaging activities with each other as well as with Pathfinders’ staff and Elders. Conversations during the “Who’s your mob?” activity and during country, language and totem discussions resulted in some of the children realising they had relatives at the camp they hadn’t met before.

A teenage girl who attended the camp said she enjoyed spending time with family members while learning more about her culture.

“I don’t usually get to spend time with my extended family, but I had this week to do so during breaks and activities. I enjoyed getting to know the Elders, too, because they know my family and told stories about our culture.”

Aboriginal girl – camp attendee

As a group, everyone participated in the opening smoking ceremony where they painted with ochre; they listened to stories from the Elders and actively participated in the bush walk and site appreciation; they examined Aboriginal artefacts and were shown how to make coolamons. In addition to culturally based activities, the children participated in swimming, kayaking, football and telling stories around the camp fire.

Sally McLennan, Senior Manager of Out-of-Home Care, said there were special moments throughout the camp that showed the true power of the culturally based conversations and activities.

“The girls yarned for two hours in a women’s circle with adults and Elders, and there were children who opened up and disclosed their experiences as a result of that safe space and discussion. Some of these girls have never had that. They’ve never had a mum or aunt to talk to them, and it was the first time they were able to explore womanhood from a beautiful, cultural perspective.”

Sally McLennan

McLennan said their next step is to go back to the kids for feedback to inform on how to run the next Pathfinders Cultural Camp, which they’re hoping to launch in the near future.

Northern Inland Innovation Awards

Pathfinders won the Prime Super Health, Aged-Care and Disability Services Award for its Pathfinders Cultural Camps at the Northern Inland Innovation Awards ceremony held in Armidale on the 24th November 2017.

Pathfinders’ CEO, Alan Brennan, said the award was a testament to the power and importance of creating opportunities for Aboriginal children and young people in Out-of-Home Care to reconnect with their culture.

“As an Out-of-Home Care provider, Pathfinders strives to preserve and enhance positive identity and wellbeing for all Aboriginal children and young people in care through ongoing links to family, community, land and culture. It’s an honour to be recognised for our innovative Cultural Camps, which we see as sustainable pathways to engage or re-engage our children with their heritage, cultural traditions and family origins.”

Alan Brennan

A panel of four judges independently rated 65 applications in the Health, Aged-Care and Disability Services category across four domains, with the Pathfinders Cultural Camp receiving the highest ranking of all innovations.

The Pathfinders Cultural Camps are unique and innovative as they are the only ones offered in the broader New England North West Tablelands of NSW. The camps are built upon the understanding that the best interests of Aboriginal youth in OOHC include the consideration of their ‘whole of life’ wellbeing, which includes health, personal development, culture, identity and education.

The Northern Inland Innovation Awards have been highlighting local stories of innovative products and approaches for fifteen years across the region, recognising innovation as the application of creative thinking to initiate or introduce improvements in a skill, product, methodology or process.

Pathfinders is a leading not for profit supporting disadvantaged children and families in the New England, North West and Mid North Coast regions. Every week we provide hundreds of families with the help they need to get back on their feet.

For bookings, pick up locations, costing and other enquiries, email aboriginal early years program:

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