Kakarra not Yapurra

In 2017 participants from the Martu Leadership Program (MLP) participated in a three-day on country camp to talk about the criminal justice system. Over 100 people were present, including key law agencies, departments and organisations. The event was held deep on Martu country, not far from the Parnngurr community in the Western Desert. Everyone was keen to explore new methods within the criminal justice system that would give better outcomes for Martu and the broader community.

The motivations for this meeting were simple: Martu want to reduce the number of Martu going to lock-up. They feel it is time to form a different sort of relationship with key whitefellas working in the criminal justice system.  They feel that Martu working closely with police, lawyers, prison and the Pilbara magistrate is the way for everyone to change the story.

To help everyone on this journey, the MLP organised this meeting on country to start the conversation. They invited key people: Pilbara magistrate (Michelle Ridley); OIC Newman Police (Mark Fleskens); OIC Jigalong Police (Bob Scott); Executive Manager for Indigenous & Community Diversity, WA Police (Robert Skesteris); Aboriginal Legal Service lawyers (Alice Barter and Melita Medcalf); and Roebourne Regional Prison senior staff (Catherine Bailey and Christina O’Brien).

This was an unprecedented and unique opportunity for Martu to talk with such a collection of people. The visitors knew that it was their chance to listen and Martu were keen to share their ideas. Everyone was keen to explore new methods within the criminal justice system that would give better outcomes for Martu and the broader community. The key programs and extension areas that were discussed included:

  • diversion program

  • licensing program

  • teaching whitefellas about Martu and bringing them closer

  • teaching Martu in prison

  • stronger transition for Martu post prison

  • reducing recidivism; and

  • learning about court.

Butler Landy, mentor for the Martu Leadership Program, felt that this was a big moment in time for Martu: “We haven’t been able to talk like this before. I feel really proud for my people that we are taking this on. The whitefellas are listening to our story and we see that as a big respect.”

Butler further explains how Martu don’t want to send anyone to yapurra (west, to prison) and want everyone to be kakarra (east, to Martu homelands) where they can live in paradise with their ancestors.

Linking to KJ’s successful ranger and leadership programs to take Martu out for the criminal justice system.  Everyone wants the same thing: to keep the young people out of trouble. 

Senior Sergeant, Mark Fleskens, observed: “We may be at an early part of a big journey, but what a great start to exploring new ways of doing things. The possibilities are considerable and now the real work begins.”

The MLP will now work closely with local police, Aboriginal Legal Service lawyers, the magistrate and prison staff on a raft of initiatives. The key is seen as everyone working together — Kujungka