Arlene Mehan is a proud Birpai traditional land owner who is a driving force behind changing the way all Australians view the past and is working to bring about change for future generations.
She grew up on Birpai land and said she owes her passion for truth-telling and changing conversations around Indigenous history to the strong role models in her life.
"I think my passion comes from my Elders and also because I want to change the way we talk about these issues for future generations," she said.
"I do what I do because I have a strong sense of place. My ancestor was the first mayor of Port Macquarie, so my history is also part of a colonised Australia. However, it's my Birpai heritage and my passion for life education that is a driving force to bring about change."
Arlene said her passion for advocating for change was also influenced by her mother, Rhonda Radley.
"Watching my mother do the work that she does has inspired me. She was part of establishing the Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council and she has always been active in truth-telling," Arlene said.
Arlene has worked in cultural education for the past 15 years and has taught at TAFE and lectured at Charles Sturt University. She has worked with people from different sectors, including health, education and the police force, to help others better understand Indigenous history and to teach truth-telling.
She was also the driving force behind the petition to remove the Sir Edmund Barton statue from Town Green in Port Macquarie and is now doing a PhD on the sounds of country while working with community groups to bring about cultural change at a local level.
Real reconciliation for me is when non-Indigenous people also speak out when they see injustices against First Nations people. When things are called out in a respectful way the culture shifts and we can move forward together.Arlene Mehan
"I also want to see the visibility of the Birpai people in the area increased. Whether that be for place names or signage and just to open up that conversation," Arlene said.
May 27 to June 3 marks Reconciliation Week and Arlene said it's a chance for everyone to explore how we can do better.
"Through my lens, people in my generation talk about the word reconciliation and say that it's loaded with inaccuracies. It's about coming together and action-based change in educational and social areas," she said.
"There is so much value in First Nations culture and we need to make it more visible. It's the oldest surviving culture in the world and we need to talk about our history even when it's not trending and when it's uncomfortable.
"It's easy to romanticise culture during NAIDOC or Reconciliation Week, but we also need to speak about the housing crisis and the high incarceration rates of Indigenous people.
"Real reconciliation for me is when non-Indigenous people also speak out when they see injustices against First Nations people. When things are called out in a respectful way the culture shifts and we can move forward together."
Arlene said she is optimistic the younger generation are starting to speak out.
"I think young First Nations people are tired of hearing the same stories and are becoming more passionate about preserving culture and truth-telling."
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