Member profile: Aunty Karen Johnson

aunty karen
Published on June 22, 2021

Karen is daring to be a leader. She is a strong, proud and humble Kuku Yalanji, Waanyi, Birri Gubba, Mununjali woman.

Karen has completed two degrees – an International Relations degree and a Law degree at Deakin University. She was raised to value learning and explore why things are the way they are. She fondly remembers her parents’ reminders even from a young age. She was told: “If you don’t know, go and read about it. Go and find out”.

She remembers their consistent messaging in her early life about the importance of education, particularly as a young, First Nations woman. It is clear to see the impact this messaging had on her and her beautiful family.

Karen is passionate about ensuring those who feel silenced know that they have a voice. She has a firm understanding that the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, South Sea Islander Peoples, people of colour, women and people of a culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is not the exclusion of others. “Others inclusion is not your exclusion,” she says.

She speaks with so much strength and humility about her values, and the role that First Nations people play in our great nation. The strength she shows daily, embracing the hard conversations and fiercely advocating that First Nations people have the right to have a right. It was this firm belief that got her into the legal realm in the first place. She wanted to fully understand the sphere of influence driving the experiences of First Nations people, and to ensure that the right voices were centred and amplified at the heart of the conversations that dictate how we manage daily life.

She says she encourages young peoples. She tells them: “remember that you carry the record of our people within you. You matter. The world needs your gifts. Don’t hold yourself back, or deny yourself your dreams or goals.”

She says: “It is so important that our messaging is clear and unwavering- we have a right to exist, we have a right to live fulfilling lives, this is a right and should not be watered down in real life or in policy statements to be portrayed as a choice or something we should be grateful to someone else for. You have the right to exist in your own right, not because someone tells you need their validation to.”

She brings this passion to her role at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Legal Services North Queensland Inc. She wants her community to understand with empathy and compassion.

She says she hopes to be an example of what First Nations people can achieve and acknowledges her achievements have come to fruition because of the First Nations people that have gone before her who created the spaces for First Nations Peoples to attain their idea of greatness. She knows the value that First Nations people bring to the table – 60,000 years of formal and informal education; the ability to come with humility, innovation, diversity, strength and humanness that seems so scarce in the legal profession. She says she is reminded daily that today she is able to do what her parents, grandparents and ancestors never had the opportunity to follow, and she wants to use this opportunity to honour her old people, and encourage the next generations.

Karen says women’s experience is different, First Nation’s women’s experience is different again. Her family were insistent on making sure they raised strong, brave, educated black women who were not afraid to stand up and use their voices. To speak even when their voices were shaking, not to accept others shame of their existence and above all else to stand firm in their purpose. Her parents were both raised on Aboriginal Reserves in Palm Island and Cherbourg and strongly encouraged education as the key to self-determination.

She wants people to learn the skills and habits to consistently remind themselves they have a right to exist and to participate in this world. She says: “As a First Nations person you have a huge role in building the consciousness of others about diversity and equality. Remember who you are and who you come from. Pursue your dreams with tenacity and unapologetically strive for what you want. Break the cycle, be your own role model, lead those around you responsibly. Walk with others, not in front, or behind. Be authentic to yourself and who you are.”

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