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Indigenous Youth Summit lays foundation for long-term succcess

Former NRL player and Indigenous youth mentor Jonathan Wright has backed the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to lead the community forward and facilitate long-term positive change in Australia. 

The 2012 grand finalist has spent the past week running the NRL's Indigenous Youth Leadership Summit and has seen first-hand the desire for youngsters to build on the legacy left by the previous generation. 

Wright acknowledged long-term change will take time but said it's important to equip young people with the skills to thrive in sport, work and family life. 

"When I went to school and started playing league, there weren't many [Indigenous programs] around," Wright told

"The first Indigenous jersey was a Canberra Raiders one that had the two flags on the sleeve and that was it. Everyone in my community wanted that jersey and then it evolved from there. 

"Today, schools and teachers are so proactive and they want to learn about our culture. It takes time but kids and adults have opportunities to learn and pass that on. It's not going to happen overnight but we're changing in a nice way."

Students completed numerous cultural activities throughout the week.
Students completed numerous cultural activities throughout the week. ©NRL Photos

The Indigenous Youth Summit is an annual event that brings together teenagers from NSW, Queensland, Victoria and New Zealand for a week of cultural and educational activities.

Wright has been tasked to run the program through his Dhinewan Mentoring, an organisation the proud Gamilaroi/Dunghutti man established to help Indigenous people achieve their goals. 

The long-term aims of the program are to ensure young Indigenous Australians have the confidence and the skills to pursue their ambitions in life. It is hoped the teenagers that attend the camp pass the lessons of this week on to their communities back home. 

Wright noticed an instant response during the first day of the summit and is confident students will leave with lessons and strategies they will carry their entire lives. 

"As people we limit ourselves," he said. "We self-doubt, we play ourselves down and have low self-esteem. At the end of the day, there are no limitations on who you can be. 

"No matter what you go through in life, if you've come from a difficult situation or from a beautiful family, if you don't look after yourself you will find life hard. 

"If I can give some of these tools, everyone has the same opportunities if you choose to use it. Find another way, be proactive, there's always a new door to walk through.

"I want them to believe that if they've come from a bush town in NSW, an island in the Top End or south-west Sydney, there's nothing stopping you."

Students completed a series of programs throughout the camp.
Students completed a series of programs throughout the camp. ©NRL Photos

The links between the NRL and Indigenous Australians go back decades, with the two sports deeply intertwined. 

Some of rugby league's biggest names are First Nations people, from immortal Arthur Beetson through to modern-day stars such as Josh Addo-Carr and Latrell Mitchell. 

Wright said rugby league is one of the first games Indigenous children are introduced to at a young age and it quickly becomes a language that bridges social and cultural divides. 

It's this power, he feels, that provides the NRL an opportunity to facilitate major social change and improve the lives of countless Australians. 

"Sport is the love language of the world," Wright said. "All sports play a role in connecting people through sport and it can be a vehicle for positive change. 

"Rugby league has long been connected with Aboriginal people. It was one of the sports my family gravitated towards when I was a young boy. It's embedded in the community and as a young boy we got a positive feeling from playing the sport.

"It's important all codes work together. We all want the same thing, to better equip the new generation to be leaders. Hearing the kids speak this week, we're quick to run down this generation as lazy but the way they articulate things is way ahead of us.

"I have three young kids and hearing these kids speak, I know my kids will grow up with great leaders."

Acknowledgement of Country

The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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