Sharing knowledge of culture and encouraging respect amongst young peers

Organisation: UMI Arts

Project: Small Brother Small Sister

Amount: $15,000

Year of grant: 2014

UMI Arts is the peak Indigenous arts and cultural organisation for Far North Queensland, an area that extends north of Cairns to include the Torres Strait Islands, south to Cardwell, west to Camooweal and includes the Gulf and Mt Isa regions.

For the past few years it has run an annual program called Small Brother Small Sister which engages young Indigenous and non-Indigenous children and youth through their school curriculum, culminating in a joyous public performance of music and dance to a large audience on the big stage at Cairns Civic Theatre.

The program encourages the inter-generational sharing of knowledge and inspires respect of cultural differences at an early age. It is set up to encourage kids not to “be shame” and not to see colour.

Schools, especially those in FNQ Indigenous communities, perform traditional dance and share their knowledge of culture from where they come from with their peers from Cairns.

“It’s about working together and being proud of who you are and what you can achieve once you put your mind to it.”

Renee Harris, UMI Arts Event Manager

Yarrabah Primary School Dancers perform Traditional Aboriginal Dancing at Small Brother Small Sister 2014 cropped

Yarrabah Primary School Dancers perform Traditional Aboriginal Dancing

For the past four years, UMI Arts has partnered with R.E.A.C.H (Regional Excellence in Arts and Culture Hubs, Education Queensland) to stage Small Brother Small Sister. This partnership is both positive and strategic, enabling student participation to be delivered during school hours as part of the school curriculum. Schools involved included Parramatta Primary School (Cairns), Yarrabah State School and Cooktown State School.

While a portion of the students each year are new to Small Brother Small Sister, others are seasoned participants who know what is coming and are excited even before rehearsals begin. Students and teachers begin talking about, imagining and then creating their own performances at school in Term 2 with the showcasing event taking place in the last week of Term 3.

On Wednesday 17 September 2014 over 600 students converged on the Cairns Civic Theatre. Throughout the day over 180 students rushed from the audience to the backstage dressing rooms to get ready for their time “on the big stage”. Students performed in bands, took part in traditional and contemporary dancing, and showcased animated films and Beat-Box. To keep the event youth-based from start to finish, the MCs were from the Indigenous Leaders of Tomorrow program. As well, in recent years, students have been called on stage to participate in the Traditional Welcome to Country, which is both enjoyable and a real ‘eye-opener’ for the students.