93. Nartarsha Napanagka Bamblett

25 Jul

Proud Yorta Yorta, Kurnai, Warlpiri and Wiradjuri woman, Nartarsha Napanagka Bamblett, has dedicated her career to helping people learn, heal, and grow their understanding of First Nation cultures. As a young entrepreneur, mother, former VFL player and former member of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria, she has achieved a great deal for both for herself and the communities she represents in very little time.

Nartarsha conducts her cultural awareness outreach via Queen Acknowledgements on Instagram. In her words, “Queen Acknowledgments is about connection to self, culture and Country, and creating a space of healing for all.” She also provides in-person workshops and performances where she facilitates that healing space. In doing so, she invites all people to gather, connect and learn about the responsibilities of living on and caring for Country.

Recently, Nartarsha worked with Cultural Colleges, Yongal teachers and Elders, and other First Nations facilitators from the Melbourne/Victorian region to create an educational event for Melbourne Girls’ Grammar. I asked her how she goes about preparing for events like this, where she is offering to open herself up and tell her story.

“Preparation is sitting with myself. Cleansing, keeping my mind, body, and spirit really clear and strong and grounded. So, that’s going to sit on the Earth or listen to music that kind of creates a feeling inside of me or speaks to me […] I think a part of the preparation is trusting in surrendering to your environment—your physical environment of where you are. I was out on Country and I allowed myself to trust in the elements of the Country, of what it provided as also a teacher for me, to guide me in what I was to facilitate.”

In the workshops and events she designs, Nartarsha’s goal is to move participants through a passage of discovery.

“It’s always a journey of every workshop that I do, whether it’s thirty minutes to three hours, I want to take them on a journey of feeling and expression. And going to places that allows them to feel, because when we feel, we heal.”

It can be a confronting process for participants but leaning into the turbulence of emotions is all part of the experience, says Nartarsha.

“On the journey we go through, [they might notice] feelings of separation, disconnection, shame and guilt, privilege, stereotypes that we all see and experience. And we talk about closing the gap, but I think we need to first understand what the gap is, then journey beyond the gap together to make the difference. And we can all stand on common ground as one to understand our roles and the individual parts we play in it, and how we can make impact to make a difference.” As their journey together ends, she aims for a feeling of “celebration to finish them off.”

What she is doing through all this is an act of storytelling, which is fundamental to the mission of Queen Acknowledgements.

“I’ve found it to be really healing, when I tell people my story. I can see the way it hits them, with their face with their, their reflections within their tears, or their smiles. I get to let go of the load […] the heaviness, the trauma that I’ve ever experienced. And I get to embrace healing in my heart every time I do that.”

While she places great importance on the oral tradition of storytelling, Nartarsha often uses dance and performance as part of her storytelling method, sharing it both on her digital platform and in workshop spaces. She describes her style it by quoting one of her Brothers, Balaneba, also a dancer.

“I think [his explanation] does it justice: cultural, contemporary, lyrical hip-hop. I feel the words, or the music that I listened to; I interpret that in my own way,”

She began as a 14-year-old, learning routines to Missy Elliot songs, and demonstrated her natural skill and potential to members of the music and arts industry. This ignited a passion she wanted to pursue professionally. Once she turned eighteen, Nartarsha toured with a company until she became pregnant and had her son at nineteen, in Shepparton. Having realised dance was vital to her self-expression, she soon contacted her birth brother and began a group in called Individual Spirits.

“I said, Bruz, why don’t we do something? While we’re here [in Shepparton]? Me and my brother had, like, brang [sic] together some young Indigenous boys and girls into our garage. And we just started sharing.”

From humble beginnings, the group went on to perform at Ash Fest and during NAIDOC Week, and even had Nartarsha travelling around Australia. Her goal was to help give the local kids of the community who might have turned to drugs and alcohol, or who were escaping domestic violence in their homes, a safe space to talk, dance, eat, have fun and take pride in who they were. “It gave them something positive and deadly to do.”

Given that Nartarsha is a powerhouse for ideas and has an aptitude for creating connections with people and communities, it seems only natural that she was the youngest member elected to the First People’s Assembly of Victoria in 2019 and held the appointment for two years. But she says she nearly fell off her chair at the news.

“I was very humbled by it, from being elected from my community […] And it was a bit scary. I was really scared, because we’re creating and pioneering in something that hasn’t been done in Australia before. When we talk about treaties, it’s been 230 years of missed opportunity. We were in a position to, I guess, help right some wrongs that could really have a big impact in the way we’re governed.”

Nartarsha makes a note that the Assembly was also the first of its kind, so standing in Parliament was a big moment. “Like that will be a moment that I’ll never forget. I had my dad there. It was just quite emotional with the people that were in the audience and also, the members I shared the space with at the time, you know, very respected leaders in the community. Like Brothers and Sisters, Aunties and Uncles, Elders of the communities. Yeah, it was really beautiful to feel such a strong sense of having pride in culture and also a passion for change.”

But despite her eagerness to move the State towards Treaty, Nartarsha does not believe this process should be hasty.

“When we talk about treaty, I feel like it’s very delayed, it should have happened a long time ago. But with the work that’s been done, I know everyone in the seats and behind the scenes are working so hard to get communities voices heard, and to get change happening within every aspect of the system and society we live in today. And having everyone acknowledged. I think that’s the biggest part, it’s like we want to acknowledge the true talent, we want to acknowledge the Stolen Generation, we want to acknowledge the education system and the future of the impacts of what we’re teaching our kids and how we’re teaching our kids. And I know that’s going to take a long time. That’s going to take a lot more people than just the people sitting in the seats. That’s why it is [up to] not just Indigenous Community, but all of all of the nation to support the intention of what this Treaty here is trying to create. And I believe that we should take our time. We’ve waited this long for it to happen. And we should take our time and be really precise in what it is we’re wanting to do and to achieve.”

Though she is no longer on the Assembly, Nartarsha still has a number of projects on the horizon which live up to its ethos. She will be creating more workshops through Queen Acknowledgements and is further cementing her entrepreneurial lifestyle by networking and building her platform — she recently appeared on popular finance podcast She’s on the Money. Nartarsha is planning to create immersive camps for families and individuals to spend time on Country with her. She also hopes to action a larger scale concept present on her platform called Cuppa Yarns, where she speaks to First Nations people of varying backgrounds and has them share their experiences.

If you would like to support Nartarsha, you can visit her on Instagram (@queenacknowledgements) and find out more about the projects she runs.

This interview was conducted via Zoom on the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, the sovereignty which was never ceded. The author also wishes to acknowledge their positionality as a non-Indigenous person.

Writer: Sarah Dornseiff

Image: Chloe Smith

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