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​A group of local Aboriginal people has developed a greater connection to their identity with the help of teachers, mentors and the use of art as expression.
 
Leslee Brown and Phil Deaves are two of the 11 Hunter TAFE students who completed their ‘Identity with Integrity’ course through the Aboriginal Learning Circle Hunter and have gained a nationally recognised qualification in the process.
 
The students graduated with a Certificate II in Skills for Work and Training at Hunter TAFE while also broadening their knowledge and understanding of their heritage and culture as Aboriginal people.
 
45-year-old Leslee Brown, from Belmont, grew up mindful of her culture and heritage but took up the course in order to better develop that knowledge. “I grew up in a proud Aboriginal family, and I wanted to take this course to discover up-to-date protocols and knowledge,” she said. “As a parent I want to be culturally sensitive and knowledgeable for my children.”
 
Phil Deaves, 65, described how the ‘Identity with Integrity’ course helped him discover details of his heritage. “Because I found out about my Aboriginal heritage later in my life, it’s helped me understand and reflect on my thoughts and attitudes when I was younger,” he said.
 
The culturally specific program has been developed by Aboriginal Learning Circle teachers in collaboration with key community mentors including local Aboriginal artist Seretta Fielding. Ms Fielding was engaged to help mentor and inspire the students in developing an art project during the course as a way to explore their personal stories and connect to their culture.
 
Ms Brown said the teachers were key to her enjoyment of the course. “Our teachers were extremely supportive and positive and helped nurture our learning,” she said. “They were very generous with their knowledge and freely gave their time to help us.”
 
“It was very interesting developing our own pieces (of art). They were a vessel that facilitated a story. Our story. I learned things about my family and heritage and made friends. It was a meaningful journey,” she said.
 
Mr Deaves said he also thoroughly enjoyed the experience. “I became a better person for it. It was a really positive experience and I highly recommend the course whether you possess Aboriginal heritage or not. We all had a lot of fun together,” he said.
 
The students’ artwork formed a part of an exhibition at Hunter TAFE’s Design Centre Hunter Gallery, which ran from 15 to 23 September 2016.

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