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Protecting the Human Rights of Indigenous People

3 November 2014 at 10:15 am
Xavier Smerdon
Work in both academia and a large corporate law firm saw April Long want to make an impact in the lives of Indigenous Australians caught up in the criminal justice system. Long is this week’s Changemaker.

Xavier Smerdon | 3 November 2014 at 10:15 am


Protecting the Human Rights of Indigenous People
3 November 2014 at 10:15 am

Work in both academia and a large corporate law firm saw April Long want to make an impact in the lives of Indigenous Australians caught up in the criminal justice system. Long is this week’s Changemaker.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

At the NCIE we lead, collaborate and host a number of life changing programs for young Indigenous Australians across the pathways of arts, culture, learning, innovation and sport and recreation.

Two key programs that we are working on at the moment are Redfern Talks Back and the Lifelong Literacy Pipeline. The NCIE takes a Collective Impact Approach to all programs and looks to partner with community organisations, corporate Australia and government. The ‘Collective Impact’ approach reverses the traditional Not for Profit social change process, where a Not for Profit identifies an isolated need, creates a service for that need, demonstrates results, and scales their service to more people in the hope of creating larger societal change.

Redfern Talks Back is delivered in partnership with the Sydney Opera House, Redfern Police and Tribal Warrior Association. The aim of the project is to engage a group of young people in the issues of crime prevention, guiding them to analyse the societal issues surrounding their situations and actions. The secondary aim of the project is to bring together decision makers and protagonists in the area of Juvenile Justice and engage them in a meaningful discussion about these issues using Forum Theatre.

The NCIE Lifelong Literacy Pipeline is delivered in partnership with the National Aboriginal Sporting Chance Academy (NASCA), MultiLit and the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) and is supported by Shell Australia.

The NCIE’s Life Long Literacy Pipeline is a best-practice, innovative literacy program based on research-informed and proven methodologies, evidence based impact measurement and a sustainable operations model that significantly improves the literacy competency of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

This National Program brings young Indigenous Australians from across the country to Redfern for a Career Fit Camp. Camps expose participants to a range of employment possibilities and support young Indigenous people to develop the life skills necessary to achieve their goals Additionally, Camps assess the literacy capability of participants and equip a percentage of the participants in need with increased literacy skills, directly improving their employability and therefore unlocking their future career potential.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

As a young lawyer, I worked in both academia and a large corporate law firm. Whilst, these experiences where highly valuable I wanted to make an impact in the lives of Indigenous Australians prior to the point of incarceration and entrenchment in the criminal justice system.

I previously edited the Indigenous Law Bulletin (ILB), a community legal journal, compiled by the Indigenous Law Centre. In this role, I would read about the amazing front line community programs changing the lives of Indigenous Australians and advocating for legal rights and protections. Whilst I see academia and corporate law as important and valuable industries, I decided that I would have a higher social impact working for a Not for Profit organisation than in Academia and corporate law. I wanted to work directly with communities practicing self-determination to provide programs that empower young Indigenous Australians.

Working for an Indigenous social enterprise enables me to practice what I am most passionate about, a place where increasing the company’s bottom line means changing the lives of Indigenous Australians and communities and ultimately helping to create an excellent Australia.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the social impact of our programs on our clients, which is the individual program participant their families, the community and ultimately the nation. It’s very rewarding to see an idea translate to a program which translates to individual change for a young person.

When you see a young person starting to internalise the Indigenous Excellence philosophy where they have high expectations for themselves and their families this is very rewarding. Whilst, I’d say my hours are on par with the hours I worked in a corporate law firm, I get to do what I love everyday, which can make the long hours, multiple stakeholder meetings and the interstate travel less tiring.

What do you like best about working in your current organisation?

Working in my current organisation I am surrounded by Indigenous excellence every day, from the trainees that work in customer service, to our CEO Jason Glanville and Chair of our Board Shelly Reyes. I am surrounded by Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians who are working in partnership to advance Indigenous Excellence and ensure our young people are given every possible chance to succeed in life.

It’s great to come into a work place environment that motivates you and gives you the opportunity to change the dominant discourse of Indigenous Australia from one of disadvantage to one of excellence and achievement and most importantly we have fun doing it.

What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment? Why?

I am currently reading Oprah Winfrey’s What I know For Sure. The book is organised by the following themes: joy, resilience, connection, gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity, and power. The book provides great insight into the life of one of the world most successful women in the world whilst providing the reader with a guide to becoming their best selves.

Working for a Not for Profit where your work is literally your life and your incredibly passionate about what you do it’s critical to practice self care to ensure that you are looking after yourself not just your staff, program participants, corporate partners and ultimately the community. This book has enabled me to check back in with myself and ensure that I am well enough to do the work I do every day.

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

My ultimate dream is to not have a job anymore (well this job). That is to say, the life expectancy, educational attainment, health statistics and incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians are no longer disproportionate to that of all Australians. Every young Indigenous Australia and every Australian is able to see Indigenous excellence as the norm.

Indigenous lawyers, doctors, teachers, rangers, social workers, nurses, writers and athletes are not the minority but something every young Indigenous Australian can strive for regardless of their geographical location, life experiences, sexuality, gender or Indignity. My ultimate dream is for every young Indigenous Australian to honour and feel the inherent resilience, creativity and excellence they have within them as an Indigenous Australian. As Jesse Jackson said “Excellence is the best deterrent to racism, therefore be excellent”

What (or who) inspires you?

There are too many individuals working for social change and justice who have inspired me to name individually. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored and meet with some of the greatest Indigenous and youth change makers in the country who are working locally and nationally to champion Indigenous Excellence and protect the fundamental human rights of Indigenous Australians, including the unique rights enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Therefore, I must say what inspires me is the unwavering commitment of Indigenous Australians and those that walk along side us to ensure justice, equality and excellence for future generations. What inspires me most is when those individuals work through a Collective Impact framework to create change.

The Collective Impact approach is premised on the belief that no single policy, government department, organisation, program or indeed individual can tackle or solve the increasingly complex social problems we face as a society. Collective Impact requires all participants to have a shared vision for change, one that includes a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed actions. The approach calls for multiple organisations from different sectors to abandon their own agenda in favour of a common agenda, shared measurement and an alignment of effort.

This approach ensures that each partner works from a strength based approach, to contribute their expertise in a collaborative and impactful way. I can truly inspired when I see this approach in action in the Not for Profit Sector.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

I think growing up in Narara, on the NSW Central Coast I was surrounded by a lot of youth and criminal justice issues but most importantly strong community members who empowered me to follow my dreams and believe that going to jail was not a rite of passage for Aboriginal people and that I could succeed at university if I really put my mind to it.

I had mentors and role models that believed in me and never lowered their expectation of what I could achieve, this was despite me living in a refuge and moving out of home living independently at 16, and regardless of the issues of alcoholism and family violence that has marked my early years.

It was during this time that I was also struggling with accepting my sexuality of being a lesbian woman in a small regional town where gay and lesbian role models where hard to find. I had first hand experiences of feeling and witness discrimination, homophobia and racism. I think being a bit different gives you a toolkit of empathy, understanding, compassion and the motivation to want to make the word just that little bit better for others.

I think ultimately I have always been passionate about social justice issues but I think my earlier life experiences gave me some really good personal examples of justice and injustice and a firm matrix to want to create and champion social change for other young Indigenous Australians and other minority groups.

Nominate a Not for Profit Changemaker at

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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