As a member of the Kunjen people of Kowanyama, Corporal Tianita McDonnel has a strong connection to her people, land and story.  

She spent a large part of her childhood in Townsville and joined the Army in June 2017 as part of the Army Indigenous Development Program.

“It is a great program for those who need it,” Corporal McDonnel said. 

She completed the six-week Indigenous Pre-Recruit Program before going to Kapooka for initial training. 

“I joined to test my limits and further my knowledge and skills,” Corporal McDonnell said. 

Posted to Combat Training Centre Townsville, Corporal McDonnel, who loves her job as a warehouse coordinator, said NAIDOC Week was a great opportunity to promote cultural awareness.

“NAIDOC Week means being able to share my cultural knowledge and experiences with people who aren’t fully aware of the meaning behind practices, songs, dance and paintings,” she said. 

The Kunjen people won their land rights back and run their own community where customs and traditions continue to be passed onto future generations.

The children grow up immersed in culture, including learning their native language at school. 

Central to their schooling is cultural practices such as hunting and gathering, connection to land and traditional ceremonies.

“I would like to see more cultural awareness programs implemented throughout Defence, not just for members doing the AID programs,” Corporal McDonnell said.

“It would be great to have NAIDOC Week for all the regions as the culture can vary so greatly.”

Corporal McDonnel said lack of knowledge was the biggest barrier to cultural awareness and would like to see everyone involved in NAIDOC and reconciliation week. 

“Don’t be afraid to ask the Indigenous members within your unit if you don’t understand; approach them with an open mind and ask them to help teach you, or show you how to understand,” she said. 

Her message is not only to people who may lack understanding but to the young Indigenous Australians.

“We need to work alongside people who haven’t been exposed to the Indigenous culture and we need to understand their level of knowledge and be patient,” she said.