With over 30 years’ experience working in government, the National Indigenous Australians Agency’s (NIAA) Don Bell, a Ngunawal Elder from Yass and Traditional Owner of Ngunawal Country, has one key piece of advice for other First Nations public servants: ‘stay strong and believe in who you are’.
“Many new starters join the government with the aspiration to see change and make a difference for Aboriginal people and their community,” Bell told The Mandarin.
“There is pressure from your family and community for that change to happen, and that is why it is so important to stay strong and believe in who you are. The role you are in with the APS is contributing to that difference.”
Bell works at the land branch at NIAA, in a team supporting the recognition of Native Title rights of Indigenous people.
Outlining a typical day, Bell said he deals with issues between Native Title applicants and Native Title representative bodies and service providers, as well as preparing ministerial briefings and networking with regional NIAA offices.
The Ngunawal Elder added the most rewarding aspect of his job is the building and managing of relationships with Indigenous groups and other relevant stakeholders.
“It gives me the opportunity to use my skills and experience as an Aboriginal person to have respectful and meaningful engagement with Aboriginal claimants to achieve native title outcomes for Indigenous groups across Australia,” Bell commented.
In terms of emerging trends, Bell has noticed his Aboriginal colleagues moving to other government agencies owing to their ‘unique skill set’.
“Indigenous public servants are being sought after more and more for their life experience, knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal communities and issues within various Government departments and agencies,” the Elder said.
Bell said he has experienced racism during his career but has also had the opportunity to develop his career and network throughout the country.
“I have become a mentor for advice to many Indigenous staff and given utmost respect by my peers, often sought out to stand up and speak out for those who feel they are not being valued or listened to,” Bell said.
“I have raised issues in meetings which have been uncomfortable for some, but meaningful to those affected by day-to-day situations that bring challenges as an Aboriginal person.”