My name is Sharon Davis, I am the Team Leader of Aboriginal Education at Catholic Education Western Australia and a proud Aboriginal woman, from both the Bardi and Kija peoples of the Kimberley.
I am a trained primary school teacher through the University of Notre Dame’s Campus of Reconciliation in Broome and have a Master of Science in Applied Linguistics and Second Language Acquisition from the University of Oxford in the UK.
I work in Aboriginal education as I believe that knowledge is the key to life’s successes and that our children deserve equitable access to an education that is both outstanding and culturally responsive, to enable Aboriginal students to reach outcomes comparable to that of their non-Aboriginal peers.
I started my journey in Aboriginal education after figuring out that what I was learning in school about my own people didn’t seem to fit with what I knew. As a young Aboriginal girl, I couldn’t relate to the anthropological- line architype my school taught me about my mob. It didn’t make sense to me that our people could thrive since the beginning of time by roaming aimlessly in a barren land. I knew something was missing, and my ability to question what was taught to me pushed me into university and into the teaching profession.
The journey has been difficult, particularly when navigating the schooling system, particularly high school. My mum was sent thousands of kilometres away from her country to attend a city high school, where she only went to Year 10. Her mother was trained as a domestic servant in a Kimberley mission, as was her mother before her.
I had to overcome a historically-based broken relationship between my family and an education system that did not deem us worthy of a real education. My determination for a better life for me, my children and my people helped keep me steadfast on my educational journey.
When people ask me about being an Aboriginal leader, I get very uncomfortable. I have never considered myself an Aboriginal leader, but rather an Aboriginal woman in a leadership position.
Aboriginal women, such as myself have a distinctive role leading change in large organisations. Not only are we a minority in terms of our Aboriginality, but also as women in leadership positions. Understanding and strengthening our identity, in and across both of these areas of marginalisation is important for building leadership skills that cater for our unique circumstances.
Participating in an Aboriginal women’s leadership course enabled me to network with other Aboriginal women who faced the same leadership challenges I faced. In some instances we talked about racism, in others it was sexism, and we often yarned about the combination of the two. Through this avenue I have met and formed relationships with many strong Aboriginal women in leadership positions who continue to support me on my leadership journey today. Following the journeys of other Aboriginal women, such as Dr Anita Heiss, Dr Chelsea Bond, Dr Megan Davis and Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson help to keep me inspired on my pathway.
As an Aboriginal woman in a leadership role, I remain strong by reminding myself that my mother, her mother, and all my mother’s before them, back until the beginning of time, fought through and overcame adversity. I stand on the shoulders of strong Aboriginal women with the work that I do today, and they are always with me to make sure I remain the course.
I would encourage teenage me to speak up and speak out, often and unapologetically. I would let me know that later on in life, I will be teaching the teachers about the true history of Australia, so why not get them thinking now. I would encourage teenage me to join and lead school committees, and that is doesn’t matter that you will be the only Aboriginal person in the group. I would tell me that it is OK to feel mad about what happened and still happens to our people, and it is not OK for adults to make you feel like you are not allowed to be angry about it. I would teach me how to navigate and master an education system that does not cater for difference, so I can go to university through a direct entry pathway. I would tell me to stay proud, to stay strong, and to stay deadly.