Wanta Aboriginal Corporation started in 2014 running a Sports Academy in Yuendumu community in the Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory, 300 kilometres west of Alice Springs. The sports academy aimed to utilise sport to engage young Indigenous people into mainstream education. Through it’s success Wanta has expanded to work in nine remote Indigenous communities across the Northern Territory. Wanta has evolved to incorporate more than just sport to engage young people, but to integrate the arts, culture and language, alternative education, mental health, cyber safety and social enterprise curriculum just to name a few.

With 70% of Wanta staff, residents of the remote Indigenous communities they work in, Wanta have witnessed first hand the lack of support and opportunities for young people living in remote communities to gain access to culturally appropriate education, training and employment.

Working in Yuendumu over the past seven years and consulting closely with Yuendumu community members, Wanta recognised the service gap between school aged children, mainstream school attendance rates as low as 14% in some remote Indigenous communities, high rates of Indigenous youth incarceration of youth as young as 10 years old and a lack of support and employment opportunities for youth in remote Indigenous communities.

In 2020 Wanta began a Job Ready program to assist youth living in Yuendumu and other remote Indigenous communities Wanta operates in to provide employment pathways to youth within their own communities. This program enabled young people assistance to get key identification to gain employment, such as photo identification, bank accounts, working with children checks, tax file numbers, superannuation accounts and driver licenses. Many of which young people living in remote communities do not have access to and may have to travel up to 1,200 kilometer round trip to a major centre to access.

Through this Job Ready program, Wanta’s Yuendumu team is now entirely Yuendumu Indigenous employees, the only organisation in Yuendumu to be wholly yapa (Indigenous) run. The organisation employs 20 Yuendumu staff and board members, 70% of who are young people with the majority not reliant on Centrelink or welfare; stating they want to work with Wanta rather than be dependent on Government welfare services.

Wanta has recently appointed two Yuendumu youth as the General Manager and Sports Academy Director’s to manage their twenty staff and board members and contracts supported by the National Indigenous Australians Agency and GMAAAC/Central Land Council.

We sat down to speak with the new Managers of Wanta to discuss their perspective on youth initiatives in Yuendumu.

Kira Briscoe, age 24 is the new General Manager for all Yuendumu Wanta programs. Kira grew up in Yuendumu community and attended and completed year 12 at boarding school in Melbourne. Kira is from Anmatyrre and Central Arrente Country, she speaks Anmatyrre and English and her dreaming is honey ant, dingo and kangaroo worm.

Kira’s role as a General Manager involves a high level of administration, stakeholder engagement, financial administration, program design, management and facilitation in a range of youth engagement settings. Kira oversees Yuendumu’s only school bus service, Yuendumu’s only weekly junior sports competition as well as Yuendumu’s only inter-community sports competitions, as well as weekly cultural and language bush trips and a youth drop in centre, with programs catering to up to 400 youth visits per week in Yuendumu.

The part of her job she enjoys the most is that she “can make a difference in the community.” That she “can create an environment where the kids feel safe and happy…that we (Wanta) as a team can make an impact in the kids lives.” She enjoys “getting to see the kids have fun and enjoy the time they spend with Wanta, being able to let them experience different things.”

Having grown up in Yuendumu and as a young person herself, Kira understands that “the children in communities sometimes do not have people that can turn them onto the right path.” And young Indigenous role models are integral to this process to change this tide.

Having been able to travel to boarding school in Victoria and have access to a range of experiences, Kira aspires to enable young people in Yuendumu the same opportunities as any young person in Australia. “I want to help the kids in the community that they can try to do bigger things, that the community is not the only option. To be able to create an environment where they can learn new skills and develop those skills for the future.”

With so much experience, passion and dedication, Kira has chosen to work with Wanta in Yuendumu as it exposes children and youth to experiences they may not have the opportunity to have otherwise. With a 100% Yuendumu team, Wanta also assists young people to get the help they need to access Walpiri role models, services and culturally appropriate education they need in a youth friendly model within their own community.

Kira’s sister Pristina Briscoe, aged 20, the new Sports Academy Director for the Wanta Yuendumu team also grew up in Yuendumu, her Country is Anmatyrre and Central Arrente and her dreaming is dingo and kangaroo worm. Her language groups are Walpiri and English. She attended Worowa boarding school in Victoria before returning to the Northern Territory, moving between Centralian Middle School, Centralian Senior College and Yirara College in Alice Springs, before eventually dropping out of the education system for one year. In 2019 she attended ASHE College in Shepparton, Victoria to complete her year 12 before returning to Yuendumu community. Upon returning to Yuendumu she applied for a job with Wanta at the age of 18.  She has now worked with Wanta for the past 18 months, being promoted from a school attendance officer to supervisor and now sports academy Director.

Pristina works with children, youth and Wanta staff to understand the causes young people are disengaging from mainstream education in remote Indigenous communities. She has spent the past 18 months travelling on Yuendumu’s only daily school bus service run by Wanta Aboriginal Corporation speaking with families and providing data to Yuendumu School and the Northern Territory’s Department of Education to assist with tracking of school absentee rates. Pristina has a unique understanding and perspective, as a young person disengaging from mainstream education and returning to Yuendumu community to seek employment and work with young people through this phase of life; she can speak to the challenges for young people and potential, contemporary community based solutions to these issues.

Pristina loves taking children and youth on bush trips to connect with culture. She believes this disconnection to culture and language has had a major influence on young people in Yuendumu. Wanta takes children and young people on weekly bush trips with elders to partake in traditional cooking, hunting and story telling in language to assist youth to connect with culture and passing this knowledge onto future generations.

Pristina also observes that a lack of positive young Yuendumu role models can lead to challenges faced by youth in Yuendumu. Pristina wants to change this by running the only youth drop in centre in Yuendumu community to provide youth with hope and a pathway to sustainable, meaningful employment within their own community. The Wanta Youth Centre operates Monday to Friday after school, averaging over 6,000 visits per year by young people. The centre is a safe, inclusive space for young people to partake in recreational and alternative education programs, including alcohol and other drugs, mental health, cooking and nutrition whilst being supervised by young Yuendumu and Walpiri role models and staff.

Pristina believes Wanta’s work in community is essential to keep “kids engaged in school”, for “Yapa (Indigenous) role models to model good behavior for youth” and for young people to transition from adolescence to adulthood, guided by staff who have grown up in their same environment; who understand the impact of technology and social media on mental health for young people and culture and who have made positive life choices to live and work to make a meaningful impact for the future of youth in their own community.

Wanta’s mission is to ensure all remote Indigenous programs are managed and run by Indigenous staff and that young people have supportive pathways to training and employment within their own communities in any field they choose. Wanta are extremely proud that its foundational community of Yuendumu can provide sustainable training and employment pathways for youth, managed by Indigenous youth in a supportive and youth friendly environment within their own community. Wanta hopes this is the future for all community development programs and organisations who work in remote Indigenous communities across Australia.

Written by Tenille Rickard, Wanta Regional Manager – Central Desert.