Neneh McIvor of the Cape York Leaders Program

Emerging First Nations Leaders: Neneh McIvor

The Cape York Leaders Program, or CYLP, provides Cape York youth with opportunities for secondary and tertiary education. It also enhances their innate leadership qualities and equips them with the skills needed to return to their communities, as young adults, who can bring about meaningful change. Within CYLP is the Academic Leaders initiative, which pairs motivated Indigenous students with scholarships to reputable secondary schools and universities. Maintaining strong connections to culture, family and home communities is an integral component of the initiative, as is forging new friendships and opportunities for mentorship. The students have diverse perspectives, ambitions, and values. Our ‘Emerging First Nations Leaders’ series gives a space and a platform for their voices.

Neneh McIvor is a young Indigenous woman from Cooktown, Queensland. She has participated with CYLP since 2019 and is currently completing her final year of high school at Clayfield College in Brisbane. Neneh chose Clayfield College to follow in her older sisters footsteps, a person she describes as her “role model”. Neneh is one of the senior CYLP students at Clayfield College, and she has embraced her role as a mentor of the younger students. When we met with her, she was proudly announcing everyone’s results from the recent school athletics carnival and encouraging the other girls to be proud of their efforts.


What was life like growing up in Cooktown?

We had lots of fun; it was so exciting. We went camping and fishing a lot with dad.

I go home every school holidays. I like hanging out with my family and walking down to the beach. It’s a beautiful place.

My mum’s family is from the Sunshine Coast, so I enjoy visiting there too.


Why did you choose to participate with CYLP?

I saw other kids doing it, including my sister. She was doing so many cool things down here [in Brisbane], like meeting new people from all over the world. I thought ‘oh my gosh, I want to be a part of that’, because it seemed pretty cool and fun. The thought of leaving home for school seemed really interesting.

You don’t get the same opportunity in Cooktown to meet such a diversity of people as you do here in Brisbane. As part of boarding, I live with lots of different girls from many different cultures. That’s very interesting, because I get to learn a lot of new things. For example, one of my close friends is Indonesian, so I’ve been able to try a lot of Indonesian food. She also introduced me to bubble tea. I’ve also attended a PNG Independence Day event once, which was fun.

I get to watch celebratory days of other students’ cultures. We get to see different dances and performances.

Not being shame means not being afraid to succeed. It means exceeding other people’s expectations of you. Success is a positive thing and it should not be something to make fun of.

Neneh McIvor

Are the other girls here curious about your culture?

Yes, definitely. They are very interested about where I live. They are also eager to celebrate NAIDOC Week, which is great, and different to what my last school was like. There is a lot of mutual respect.

What has your experience been like at Clayfield College so far?

It was hard at first; I was very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so I felt a little awkward for the first six months. Living in a big city like Brisbane was strange too. It has been good ever since then and I have found living in Brisbane to actually be an interesting experience.

I adapted pretty easily in the end because I have a good support system through CYLP and the school. That helped me overcome any challenges.

What have you learnt or experienced that you didn’t otherwise expect?

I have become so much more confident in the past twelve months. Actually, since starting year 12 I have changed a lot.

CYLP has helped me develop personal leadership skills, such as learning to be more present. I also learnt how to incorporate more people’s perspectives and opinions, to ensure everyone feels respected as part of a team.

What makes a good leader, in your opinion?

Having a willingness to learn about other people and seeking out their ideas. Also, speaking out against things that you believe are wrong. For example, if girls are speaking badly about each other, especially younger girls, I tell them that that’s not a good way to be.

That’s the example I try to set. It’s hard sometimes, but that’s okay.

What kind of leader would you like to be in the future?

I want to be someone that younger people can look up to and say: “I want to be someone like her”.

What would you like to do after you finish high school?

I’d like to possibly study at Griffith University, QUT or Bond University.

I originally wanted to study environmental science, but now I’m thinking of studying urban planning with a link to environmental studies. I like learning about geography and biology.

What is the best advice you have received since starting with CYLP?

To not be shame. The CYLP staff stress that a lot: “Don’t be shame”. Because that’s such a barrier for Indigenous people.

Not being shame means not being afraid to succeed. It means exceeding other people’s expectations of you. Success is a positive thing and it should not be something to make fun of.

What is an issue that you are passionate about?

Indigenous deaths in custody, for sure. There needs to be better medical services for Indigenous people in custody. They are being locked up for really small issues and they don’t deserve to be treated that way. Then suddenly, before you know it, there’s been another death. It’s crazy how quick it happens and it’s crazy how it’s not being noticed by politicians.

Thank you for your time, Neneh.

Thank you.


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