Working and advocating for community
1 July 2022 at 5:21 pm
Yiman/Ganglu woman Kara Keys has worked across the for-purpose space and now runs her own consultancy, working with clients such as Australian Progress, where she maps First Nations capacity. She is also the chair of Women in Super. She is this week’s Changemaker.
Kara Keys grew up on the lands of the Yugerra and Turabul peoples of Meeanjin (Brisbane), after being adopted at 11 months old.
She was raised by a single mum and is now a mum herself to a very cheeky (and very tall) 11 year old, who fills her cup up everyday, and she describes her partner as a powerhouse, who works in the energy markets and electrical trades.
She says she didn’t do well at high school and is constantly amazed that a “skinny-legged, poor, working-class, Aboriginal girl from the Logan husting is doing what she is today”.
“I would have never dreamed, when I was picking clothes or working on factory floors, boxing up nails, back in the day, that I would have had the opportunity to go to university, work for the union movement, fight for First Nations rights and do a bunch of board work and run my own business,” she laughs.
Keys says the matriarchy in which she was raised drives her and her career, including the nurturing between women.
“Both my mums came from matriarchal families, both had five sisters and our women Elders have always set the standard and principles for the family. Every single amazing career or personal opportunity I have ever had was because of a mother or sister,” she says.
In this week’s Changemaker, Keys talks about her work advocating for community in a number of areas and what NAIDOC Week means to her.
How did you get into the job you’re in now?
That’s a very long story. I work for myself these days running my own business KTL Collective, which I started in 2019. I worked in the union movement for the better part of 20 years. I was setting out to be an academic but felt like I wasn’t having enough impact. I wanted to really get into the work so I became a union organiser in 2005 and have never looked back.
I have been privileged enough to work on some massive campaigns; stolen wages (Qld), First Nations superannuation, Muckaty Waste Dump to name a few, and what I do now to ensure that First Nations people have a voice in what happens on their lands through educating and activating institutional investors and working with multiple First Nations organisations to build community and organisational power.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Eat, Sleep, Pray, Repeat. Nah gammin. I love to take my kid to school. Our morning routine is the best and I really cherish it given I was totally absent from him and his daily routine for about six years in my old job.
Once my lad is at school I normally have a range of client meetings working with them on the why, how and what (tactics) of how to achieve their aims for mob. I also do a bit of board work – so doing functional stuff like reading papers, asking questions and reaching out to different teams is also a big part of my time. You can’t do consulting or board work without the actual work – my job is mostly yarning to people, asking questions, seeing complex problems and working through them.
Whether it’s clients/mob or board roles, I feel like my job is to constantly build people up, build their skills, perspectives, work collaboratively and achieve collective goals.
What advice do you have for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people wanting to work in this sector?
Always listen (actively), be open minded, ready to learn and most of the time STFU. One thing I learnt really well from the union movement which carries over – if you are having a conversation, it’s a 70:30 ratio – listen 70, speak 30.
I think the other thing I would say is, it’s OK to be uncomfortable. In fact, real learning means that you will be uncomfortable. Sit with it. If you are not uncomfortable, then you probably need to check yourself, your assumptions and bias and assess whether you’re in a comfortable feedback loop that doesn’t take you anywhere except your own learned bias. This goes for blackfellas too.
What does NAIDOC Week mean for you and why is it important?
I love NAIDOC. So many feels. When I was 14 years old I met one of my birth Aunties and some cousins for the first time at the Musgrave Park Invasion Day March and Family Fun Day. And that to me is the point of NAIDOC. It’s about mob, family connection, community catch ups and celebration, yarning and some grieving.
I reckon a tidda (sister) summed it up really well in pointing out that Reconciliation Week is about Australia, NAIDOC is for mob.
What are some of the challenges working in the Aboriginal justice space?
There are lots of challenges. Structural and direct/indirect racism is an ongoing challenge. These are big things and as a country Australia still absolutely hasn’t dealt with the violent history and ongoing dispossession and oppression of First Nations peoples.
What are some of the most gratifying things about working in the Aboriginal justice space?
Our mob. Easy. Hands down. I’ve worked with mob all across the lands we call Australia – city, regional, remote. All our mob across the country, what they’re working on, what they’re fighting for – just amazing and humbling.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Hanging out with my lad, my partner and watching Star Wars (currently hooked on Obi Wan series). I love pilates and having cheeky wines with my sister-in-law and shit-talking on text with tiddas about life and the world.
What are you most proud of in your career?
Heaps to be honest, but if I was to point out a couple:
- Queensland Stolen Wages, working with the old people to make sure they got the best out of a shit deal.
- 10 days family violence domestic leave – I coordinated the campaign for three years.
- Initiatives in superannuation for women.
- Leading and steering (as a trustee director) the investor industry with other organisations to ensure mob aren’t getting a dud deal from mining companies.