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Feeling proud of who you are

Shane Phillips smiles genially as he gestures for me to take a chair. As CEO of the Tribal Warrior organisation, delegate to the Prime Minister’s 2020 summit in Canberra, and coach of the Redfern All-Blacks, the community activist and life-long resident of the The Block is notoriously self-effacing reports Sarah Malik in the South Sydney Herald of October 2008.

Tribal Warrior is an independently-funded Indigenous youth employment and development program based in Redfern. A grass-roots organisation, run and managed through elders in the community, it trains over 700 crew members for maritime work every year.

Phillips, who grew up on The Block, remembers how difficult it was growing up black with little positive reinforcement at school or in wider society. “But at night I’d hear all the great stories. My parents were grounded, tried, made mistakes, maintained survival. They were honest – it was tough out there, but positive.”

It was that emotional investment which inspired Phillips to become an achiever and contribute positively to help his community.

“All of us have a role to protect and build community. It is not the Koori thing to just care about yourself, because community affects everyone,” says Phillips. “I was lucky to come from a family who talked about the great Aboriginal role models, in politics and sport … If you believe in the good things black people have done, if you think you can do it too, you can be a contributor.”

Phillips believes that building that sense of confidence and self-worth is an essential part of Indigenous empowerment. “A lot of kids are made to feel inferior … we’ve got to promote the value and importance of the Aboriginal people and the importance of feeling proud of who you are,” he says. “It’s easy for kids to be angry. But that anger is our enemy.”

It is this philosophy that is used in Tribal Warrior training programs which focus on developing skills and self-sufficiency. “It might be simple things like learning about work ethic or completing a task. If anyone can gain a sense of worth from it, people start to reinforce their sense of belonging and self worth,” says Phillips.

It is these small things Phillips says that can have a big impact. “I see people come through with heroin and ice addictions, family problems, etc., who come to realise they have always been worth something and become leaders in their communities.”

One of the key successes of the program is the mentoring required from former graduates of the program, which allows young people to see role models who have come through similar experiences and succeeded. “We can all relate [to their issues] and can create pathways and show that we are there for them,” says Phillips.

The best part of the job, he says, is watching people change their lives around with a renewed sense of their own purpose and dignity. “I saw people who would not look people in the eye, who with non-Aboriginal people would feel inferior. I see these same people articulating their own circumstances. These guys have become mentors and role models. That is what just blows me away.”

To book a cruise or charter on the Tribal Warrior, or to make a donation, visit www. or call (02) 9699 3491.

Source: South Sydney Herald October 2008