After a couple of years, I transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), where I eventually graduated with a degree in Business Management and Marketing. During one of only two visits home in eight years, I arrived at Warmun Community and my aunt drove my sisters and me out to what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. She stopped the troopy, told us to all get out of the car and started walking towards a hill with huge boulders. We asked her where she was taking us. She said that this was where our ancestors had lived; my great gungai and grandpa, and all of the old people.
We climbed a few metres up the hill to a tiny cave and my aunt told me to lie on my back, crawl in and tell her what I saw. I couldn’t believe what I saw. On the roof of the cave was a painting of a serpent, nothing too intricate but a serpent nonetheless. The rainbow serpent is believed to be the creator of life and lives in all that we know, the earth we walk on, the water we swim in, the air we breathe. Whenever we set foot onto country that isn’t ours, a welcome ceremony helps protect us. When you have been away for as long as I have, it is always wise to have a marrntha (welcome to country).
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My time studying, and playing basketball at UTEP gave me some of the most fantastic experiences of my life but I knew that a big decision loomed on the horizon.
At some stage in their career, most student athletes have to decide between education and sport. I was no different. After my degree, I considered returning to Australia to play basketball at a high level. Basketball and my family were my two great loves and this would allow me to do both. But, unexpectedly, I had been offered a fully funded scholarship to pursue a Masters degree at UTEP. This would allow me to advance my education but not my basketball. I had always assumed that I was going home soon but this course meant that I would stay away from my family for a while longer.
Both options were as upsetting as they were exciting. I had to make a decision. I talked about the opportunity with my parents, telling them that it meant another two or three years away from home. We talked about what I would miss by not being home and what I would gain by being away. After a while, the decision became obvious. My time at UTEP had solidified my view on the importance of education. In discussions with my family, it was apparent that change was desperately needed in our community, especially among young people, and my education could help to change that. I wanted to help guide my people to a better future. Basketball had brought me this far; it was my education that would give me the rest.
After two years of hard work, I was proud, and relieved, to finish my Masters degree. A year following graduation, I went home for the first time in six years.
This time for good.
I have been blessed with an education that allows me to be a change agent for Indigenous people, to bring justification and a voice to our futures. My hope is that the young people that I meet realise the immense potential which exists within each of them. I want them to know that if they have discovered what awakens their soul and makes them yearn for more, no matter how chaotic life around them is, then they should hold onto it and run like the wind. I want to share a belief of forgetting this whole ‘shame’ business. They, like I, have nothing to be ashamed of; no-one is perfect, we are all human, we all stumble and we all rise in our own ways, in our own time. I was faced with challenges along my journey, and I found that it was my decisions that control who I end up being.
I have experienced so much and had so many wonderful opportunities. I look back at the many decisions I have made along this journey and realise that my life could have been so different. But I chose my education, and I’m so glad I did because, as many of the old people have said to me, it’s time for me to be home now.
Copyright © Kia Dowell 2010. Reproduced with permission.