A new project has been launched to encourage Indigenous secondary students in Queensland to yarn with their Elders over the Christmas holidays.

The Yarning with Our Elders project by the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Foundation (QATSIF) in partnership with the Australian Catholic University (ACU) invites students to connect with their cultural heritage and listen to stories from their Elders.

Established in 2008, QATSIF works to provide Indigenous students in Queensland with increased access to education through scholarships and support.

As a part of the project, students are asked to record stories and pieces of wisdom from Elders using any medium they like — including video, voice recording, poetry, interviews or music.

All Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from Years 7 to 12 can enter, including Year 6 students who are moving into high school next year.

The Secretariat Director of QATSIF, Michael Nayler, said he hopes the project will “open that first door to more and more conversations” between students and their Elders.

QATSIF Secretariat Director Michael Nayler hopes the Yarning With Our Elders project will reconnect students with their Elders. Photo supplied.

“I think there’s a real thirst out there at the moment amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people, in particular to learn about culture and learn from Elders,” he told NIT.

“It’s a lovely two-way relationship where it could be an Aunty, it could be an Uncle, or it could be Grandparents.

“It could be someone that the student doesn’t necessarily know too, but the project is just a chance to go and sit and yarn and just hear part of the story, and to share that that back again.”

Nayler highlighted the importance of preserving these stories for future generations.

“The idea is to … ask Elders for their permission to be able to share some of their stories a little bit wider,” he said.

“If there are Dreaming stories or if there are traditional words or bits of local history, it’d be nice to think they were available for future generations too, because our Elders are such a great resource.”

“I think we need to act soon on getting those stories and keeping that history and not losing it.”

Nayler said students should focus on one aspect of their Elders lives for their recording, and can include anything from general advice from their Elders, a story about what it was like growing up in their local community, their Stolen Generations or Stolen Wages story, or even sharing important words in traditional language.

The ACU will assist in collating and preserving these messages and offer prizes for outstanding entries, with the best entries across junior, middle and senior years receiving an iPad and those placing winning trophies.

Nayler said connecting with Elders is important especially after COVID-19.

“There are lots of families that haven’t been able to connect with Elders that are in community, and that can sometimes be quite lonely as well … particularly during COVID time, that’s got even tougher,” he said.

“So we’d love to see this as a lovely opportunity for Elders to reconnect with family as well to and to have their stories respected and heard.”

Yarning with Our Elders is one of the QATSIF’s series of competitions and projects aimed at encouraging young people to feel a “great sense of pride and culture”.

Entries close February 12, 2021. Consent and entry forms can be found here.

By Grace Crivellaro