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.
Shintae Nona and Kevisani Daniel – known to his friends as Kevi – are Indigenous students who hail from Bamaga. Bamaga is a community in the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York, located approximately 1,000 kilometres north of Cairns. They attend St Peters Lutheran College in Brisbane; Kevi is in Year 7 and Shintae is in Year 10. They both received the opportunity to study at St Peters through a CYLP scholarship, an opportunity which they are grateful for. As a junior student, Kevi enjoys a lot of attention from his senior peers, but also surprises them and his CYLP Student Support Officer with his grounded and mature outlook. Shintae will soon be moving into the senior grades, and has her eyes set on a future in Cape York where she hopes to make a meaningful difference to community welfare and wellbeing outcomes.
Tell me about your home community and what life is like to grow up there.
Shintae: It’s a very good community. We speak Creole back home; everyone speaks Creole there. The culture is so strong, but some people don’t follow the cultural rules. For example, we have hunting protocol, but some people aren’t following it.
Kevi: One of the protocols is not to go overkilling animals, because we need rebirth in the animal populations.
Shintae: Another thing that people are doing is taking videos of the animals that they hunt, and that’s not good either. White people will see that and then there may be rules put in to stop the killing, which would stop traditional hunting.
Some things are changing now, because a lot of young people are standing up and saying they want change. Now there are more opportunities for younger kids up there.
Kevi: Yeah, we want more jobs up in Bamaga for young and older people, and I think that’s changing now.
I go home every holidays and do my favourite things, like fishing and diving for the crays.
Shintae: I go home too, and like going out with family and friends – just catching up with everyone.
Why did you choose to participate with CYLP?
Shintae: Some of my family members participated with CYLP, and they suggested that I do it too.
Kevi: My mum and dad are senior people in the community, and they recommended it to me. I think it’s great to share my traditions with other kids here at the school and other kids in CYLP.
Is it different to what you thought it would be like?
Shintae: Yes, very different. The first time I came here, I was scared. I thought that the other kids down here would be less welcoming, but it’s actually very chill. So, I got into it very quick. When I first came, there were some Torres Strait girls here who welcomed me. That made connecting with people much easier. I made friends with all the kids here very quickly.
The work is challenging sometimes, especially as I move up the grades in school. But I get a lot of help and feedback from the teaching staff here.
You actually get a lot of opportunities at this school. I go on work experience trips for the courses that I study, such as midwifery.
Kevi: I was scared when I first came, but when I saw that there were other Indigenous boys in boarding I got used to it, because I was sharing my culture with them. I was able to share my feelings with those boys too.
Being away from my family and my traditional home has been a challenge. I like the opportunities here though. I get to play a lot of different sports, such as rugby union and basketball.
Shintae: There aren’t that many sports opportunities for us back home, and the opportunities that do exist are mostly for the boys and not the girls. I get to play rugby union, softball and touch rugby here.
We shared information about our cultures, and that was a good opportunity to educate our school friends. They were surprised by how much they didn’t know ... I think they were happy to learn, and we were happy to teach them.
What are you learning here that you didn’t expect to?
Shintae: Mostly the subjects in the science department, like biology and chemistry. We don’t have those subjects at home. Also, the religion subjects. Before I came here, I didn’t know that there were other religions around the world.
Kevi: All the different ways to do maths. And I also have learnt some interesting things about other people’s religions. Some people have more than one god, for example.
Are the non-Indigenous students here curious about your culture and your home?
Shintae: Yeah. Some other kids don’t know anything about Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures. Last year in our religion class we focused on Indigenous spirituality. We shared information about our cultures, and that was a good opportunity to educate our school friends. They were surprised by how much they didn’t know, like what we eat and the ceremonies that we have. They didn’t know about important people in our culture, such as the people who fought for land rights, like Eddie Mabo. I think they were happy to learn, and we were happy to teach them.
What would you like to do once you have finished school?
Shintae: My dream is to study nursing and midwifery at TAFE or university here in Brisbane. I would then like to return to my home or somewhere else in Cape York and help women and young girls with certain issues, such as teenage pregnancy.
Kevi: I would like to go home and be a carpenter, so I could build my house and provide shelter for animals if I have pets.
Tell me about your experience with CYLP.
Shintae: CYLP is a very supportive system. You can get a lot of help from them. It’s the same with the school – they are very supportive of everyone, especially the Indigenous kids. The staff at the school also encourage us to achieve our potential, to look for all the opportunities that are available to us.
What leadership skills have you learnt whilst participating with CYLP?
Shintae: I have learnt to stand up for myself more, and to not be shame. That was the motto at the CYLP camp this year: don’t be shame.
Kevi: I have learnt to be a good leader for younger students – showing them how to wear correct uniform and go to the right classes.
CYLP has taught me to show good sportsmanship, and to not be ashamed of who I am. They have taught me not to be ashamed of showing my true self, in sport and public speaking for example.
In your opinion, what behaviours does a good leader display?
Shintae: Being the bigger person and having good morals. Being someone that people can look up to.
My grandmother is my role model because she always acts as the bigger person.
Kevi: Someone who takes on responsibility.
My granddad is my role model, because he has taken responsibility for some problems that my family have had. He also teaches me culture.
What kind of leader would you like to be in the future?
Shintae: I’d like to be the person who younger people can feel comfortable to share things with.
Kevi: I want to be someone who is responsible. Some people in my family haven’t been responsible, and I would like to be a good example for my family.