Empowering Miss NAIDOC

Design / Life

“I want to emphasise the importance of connecting and creating relationships with communities, to enable self-determination and for my people to have a voice to share their stories with the wider community.” The words of Miss NAIDOC Perth finalist Marani Greatorex capture the essence of what Miss NAIDOC is all about.

Ten years ago, Miss NAIDOC had a rebirth from what was essentially a pageant in the late 80s and early 90s. Community worker and model Shannon McGuire agreed to help Aunty Glenda Kickett revive the Miss NAIDOC concept. But she didn’t want to be involved in a pageant – a pageant didn’t mean anything.

“So, we created an empowerment and leadership program,” says Shannon – who isn’t actually Glenda’s niece but, in the Noongar way, Glenda is affectionately called ‘Aunty’. “We wanted Miss NAIDOC to be someone who would be an ambassador for NAIDOC Week. Someone who future generations could look up to.”

NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year it will be held in November – postponed from the original July dates due to Covid-19.

Miss NAIDOC Perth 2020 will be crowned at a gala dinner at Crown Perth on 5 September. The 10 finalists – selected from nearly 100 applicants aged 18 to 30 – are a diverse bunch, hailing from all sectors including the arts, medical and legal. Some are community workers and, importantly, some are mums.

“We’ve thrown those traditional rules of ‘Miss’ out the window. We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity,” says Shannon. “We want to include women whose values and beliefs tie strongly to the promotion of cultural awareness and issues pertaining to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and will best fit the ethos of NAIDOC Perth… The diversity of the group means we are able to have holistic discussions around Indigenous issues in Australia.”

Shannon, who is a mentor rather than a judge, has facilitated a series of empowerment workshops for the finalists. These informal workshops provide the space for the girls to form a sisterhood and yarn about indigenous topics and issues.

“We talk about leadership – what it means to us personally, within the community and what it looks like in the indigenous community,” says Shannon. “We talk about values and relationships – how to build them within our community. We talk about communication – effective communication and how to communicate as a leader.”

Shannon says it’s wonderful to watch the girls grow during the program. “Some of them start out very shy. They may not feel very connected to culture. But they get to know each other, they speak to elders and they build their self confidence in speaking around those issues and speaking out about those issues.”

Some of the bigger issues discussed are about transgenerational trauma, the lack of recognition of indigenous people in the Australian Constitution and about closing the gap. Of course, they also talk about significant times in history for indigenous people. This year’s relevance, for example, being the ‘black lives matter’ and the ‘free the flag’ campaigns.

Previous Miss NAIDOC winners and participants have gone on to work within the community – mentoring young people through schools and the juvenile justice system, advocating for indigenous issues, speaking at corporate and government functions and speaking at WA Day community events.


Tickets to the crowning event: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/miss-naidoc-perth-crowning-gala-2020-tickets-115815087043

Images: https://www.aaronmcpolin.com/