The Yiriman Project

The Yiriman Project is based in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, a State where ‘Aboriginal young people make up just over 6 per cent of 10 to 17-year-olds, but account for more than three quarters of those in juvenile detention’ (Thorburn and Marshall 2017: 1). The Project was initially established in 2000 by Aboriginal Elders representing four Kimberley language groups the Nyikina, Mangala, Karajarri and Walmajarri. The Elders shared concerns for their children and young people and:

Believing in the power of their own Culture and of Country to heal their own young people, the Elders began taking young people out on to Country, travelling over Country by foot, camel or vehicle, teaching and speaking in language, visiting ancestral sites, storytelling, engaging in traditional song and dance, preparing young people for ceremony and law practices, teaching traditional crafts, tracking, hunting, and preparing traditional bush tucker, practicing bush medicine, and passing on knowledge to the younger generations.

(Yiriman Project 2017: up)

If a shared sense of unease around the ‘cultural drift’ of Aboriginal children and people underpinned the founding of the Yiriman Project, in the 20 years since its inception:

a raft of other commonly identified concerns is regularly addressed [including]: suicide rates; contact with the justice system; health and wellbeing; family relationships and conflict resolution; self-esteem and confidence; substance abuse; and rates of training/education.

(Thorburn and Marshall 2017: 6)

As Thorburn and Marshall (2017: 4) observe, the Project might not ‘“fit” comfortably into contemporary government language or policy directions’, but its longevity reflects the faith that Aboriginal Elders have invested and sustained and ‘the project has been praised by the Productivity Commission as a “project that works”... it was a winner in the 2012 Indigenous Governance Awards, and [it] was also cited in the March 2015 National Mental Health Commission Report... as an exemplar of national best practice for working with Aboriginal youths at risk’ (ibid: 3). Indeed, as the researchers conclude: ‘the Yiriman Project could form the basis of a much broader regional Justice Reinvestment strategy’ (ibid: 6. See also Schwartz et al. 2017).

The Maranguka lustice Reinvestment Project

Justice reinvestment takes a different localised approach to the application of positive power and the realisation of self-determination, by moving beyond the courts and the conventional apparatus of youth justice and penality and engaging with broader processes of community development (Brown et al. 2016). The Maranguka JR Project, located in the remote town of Bourke in north-west New South Wales, is ‘the first major pilot site in Australia to adapt and implement an Aboriginal-led place-based model of justice reinvestment’ (KPMG 2018: 6). Bourke is situated on the Darling River at the traditional boundary area for the Ngemba, Murrawarri, Budgiti and Barkinji Tribal Groups. The population of the Bourke Shire is 2,634, of which 829 people are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (an Indigenous population share of approximately 31.5 per cent, compared to 2.9 per cent across the State of New South Wales) (KPMG 2018: 8). For over two decades, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been overrepresented in the very criminal/youth justice systems that have denied them opportunities to participate actively and to affect justice-based issues. Accordingly, a coalition of local Aboriginal leaders and state-wide organisations identified that a new approach was needed. Through a partnership with Just Reinvest NSW and guided by the Bourke Tribal Council - comprising representatives from 27 different Tribal Groups living in Bourke - the Maranguka JR Project was born. Maranguka means ‘caring for others’ in the local Ngemba language.

KPMG (2018: 8) note:

The primary focus of the Maranguka JR Project has been the design and implementation of long-term system change. This includes the empowerment of community through self-governance linked with practical action and positive role modelling. These activities work in tandem with changing the way the... justice systems operate - from program design and delivery models, to police force procedures, ways of thinking and court processes. The Maranguka JR Project activities are underpinned by the ‘Growing Our Kids Up Safe, Smart and Strong’ Strategy, which was developed by the Bourke Tribal Council.

Taken in the round, the Maranguka JR Project facilitates promising approaches to local decision-making and enables the mobilisation of community-based services that build strength and reduce contact with the criminal/youth justice systems.

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