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Sarah’s Aboriginality is more than skin deep

Six-year-old, fair-skinned Sarah Johns was specifically told not to tell anyone she was Aboriginal because she would be treated differently and wouldn’t be able to get an education.

Now many years later, Sarah is a proud Wodi Wodi woman from Dharawal country who Gets Up, Stands Up and Shows Up’ to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes of Indigenous students at TAFE Queensland.

“This deficit thinking about my people caused me to feel unworthy of having the educational opportunities offered to me by my hardworking parents. I felt invisible and erased,” said Sarah.

“I was denied of my cultural traditions and practices. I didn’t enjoy learning, I didn’t fit in. I felt that I had no place.”

Sarah’s turning point was at 15 years old when she decided it was time to proudly show the world that beneath her skin runs a rich and proud Indigenous heritage.

“It hasn’t been an easy ride being a fair-skinned Aboriginal woman and a few years ago the guilt of white privilege set in. This has been a long and deep learning journey, to accept, live with and move forward,” she said.

Since then, the mother of three has developed an insatiable passion for improving the educational opportunities and outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and as TAFE Queensland’s new Indigenous Support Officer on the Gold Coast she can do just that.

“Through my role at TAFE Queensland I am able to encourage and empower Indigenous students and staff to embrace and honour their identity and support them through connection,” she said.

“I also assist Indigenous students with access to services such as learning support, counselling and effective communication with their teachers, while providing Indigenous perspectives to staff that will help student learning and engagement.”

Sarah holds regular ‘Yarning Circles’ for TAFE Queensland staff and students to come together as a community, where everyone can connect, learn cultural practices and discuss issues that arise for Indigenous people.

“These yarning circles allow for a check in, to develop a further understanding of the Indigenous histories and traditions and have a positive impact on Indigenous and non-Indigenous students and staff,” she said.

Ultimately Sarah’s goal is to increase enrolment rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders at TAFE Queensland and provide a safe space for their learning so that they can make a difference.

“I want all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to feel welcome, safe, supported and empowered to complete their higher education journey and ensure the Indigenous community is a part of the decision making of education for their students.”

While working full time Sarah is also studying a Bachelor of Education, however she started her tertiary education journey at TAFE Queensland in the early 2000s and said it set her up for a lifelong love of learning.

“If it wasn’t for TAFE, I don’t believe I would be in a position to learn to become a student and develop a whole-hearted love of learning. Through higher education I have developed a true appreciation of the value of learning,” she said.

When asked about the thing she loves most about Indigenous culture, Sarah simply replied "connection".

“Connection means so much to me. Connection comes from deep within my soul and I can feel it. Connection to family and country. Lived experiences are relationships that join and link us to each other, to the land, the sky, waterways and animals. Most of all connection to our dreaming and ancestors guiding me through life.”

To connect with Sarah email Sarah.JOHNS@tafeqld.edu.au