This year’s NAIDOC theme – Heal Country! – is really inspiring us at WELA. It’s an opportunity to celebrate incredible First Nation’s women who are dedicating their lives to heal Country – on every level: spiritual, physical, emotional, social and cultural. Dr Anne Poelina, Cheryl Buchanan, Ella Noah Bancroft and Sherie Bruce are four leaders working to heal Country through their campaigning for climate justice and environmental action.

Dr Anne Poelina

Dr Anne Poelina is a Nyikina Warrwa (Indigenous Australian) woman in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Poelina is an active Indigenous community leader, human and earth rights advocate, filmmaker and a respected academic researcher, with a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, Master of Education, Master of Arts (Indigenous Social Policy) recently submitted a PhD (Health Science) titled, ‘Martuwarra First Law Multi-Species Justice Declaration of Interdependence: Wellbeing of Land, Living Waters, and Indigenous Australian People’.

Signatory to the Redstone Statement 2010, she is a 2011 Peter Cullen Fellow for Water Leadership.  In 2017, she was awarded a Laureate from the Women’s World Summit Foundation (Geneva), elected Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council (2018), Adjunct Professor and Senior Research Fellow with Notre Dame University and a Research Fellow with Northern Australia Institute Charles Darwin University. Poelina is a Visiting Fellow with the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University, Canberra Australia Water Justice Hub to focus on Indigenous Water Valuation and Resilient Decision-making.

Among her latest work is the Regenerative Songlines Project, launched during NAIDOC 2021. It’s a network connecting regenerative projects and practitioners, led by First Nations peoples and inclusive of all Australians. The project aims at transforming the extractivist, colonial mindset and practices of the dominant industrialised society, economy and culture of Australia, towards regeneration and restoration, so that we can live and thrive within bioregional ecological limits and planetary boundaries.

Cheryl Buchanan

Cheryl Buchanan is a traditional owner from the Guwamu Nation and Nyurin Clan in south-western Queensland. She’s a deadly black woman, a dancer, a powerhouse for change and a friend to WELA since the beginning. 

Cheryl’s country is on Nebine Creek where the Darling River starts. She says: “The river is part of who we are. It is about respecting that traditional knowledge, to bring it into the twenty-first century, and to put it as two words: Cultural Flows’.”

In 2004, the National Water Initiative for the first time recognised Indigenous water rights. Since then Cheryl has been instrumental in getting recognition of cultural flows and having the concept of First Nations’ water rights embedded in Australia’s water management regimes. As  a director of the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations NBAN, Cheryl was the driving force behind the National Cultural Flows research project and is a member of the National Aboriginal Water Interests Committee advising the Agriculture Minister. 

In 2010, with much of eastern Australia ravaged by a decade of drought, Cheryl along with Aboriginal nations from end to end of the Murray Darling came together to dance the spirit back into rivers, recreating the powerful Ringbalin ceremony, to bring the rain. Watch the Ringbalin film for a beautiful insight into the deep cultural and spiritual connection of First Nations people with water as well as land. 

Cheryl was Naidoc woman of the year in 2005, already celebrating a lifetime of leadership for Aboriginal people, women and the environment. 16 years on she says:  ‘We still have such a long way to go:  Aboriginal communities hold very few water licences, nor are they respectfully engaged in water governance. Climate change is knocking on our door but it’s still a very faint ripple when it comes to prioritising policy and resourcing. We are fighting for our water rights and interests to be recognised in the whole landscape and for Aboriginal people to be engaged in a real way, not a tokenistic way.”

Sherie Bruce

Sherie Bruce is of Aboriginal descent from the Central Arrernte of Mparntwe (Alice Springs) with a deep cultural connection to the Yolgnu of Ramingining, Northern Territory and has Scottish ancestors. She is currently living on Darumbal Country near Rockhampton in Central Queensland. We were proud to have her as a WELA 2020 alumna.

Sherie is an Environmental Scientist currently researching Environmental Biotechnology waste solutions at CQUniversity and Lecturer of the unit Indigenous and Community Engagement. Her other roles are as a tutor for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students preparing to enter study or currently studying at CQUniversity. Her full-time job at CQUniversity as a Project Research Officer is working on an Australian First Nations digital training tool. Sherie is deeply committed to indigenising the Curriculum at CQUniversity and is one of the Champions supporting the Communities of Practice team.

Sherie is a passionate advocate of equality and equity, focusing on Australian First Nations rights, social justice and the environment. She has lived and worked in remote, regional, and urban communities. Having worked in environmental advocacy, mining, Queensland government, academia and non-profits, Sherie has developed unique insights into communities’ needs.

Sherie is the Deputy Chair of Queensland Conservation Council (QCC), the peak non-profit body representing Queensland conservation groups. She is pleased to be working with the QCC Executive and staff on implementing reconciliation practices, including a Reconciliation Action Plan and other decolonising strategies.

Sherie is proudly following her mother’s footsteps, Esther Pearce a passionate advocate for equality for all Australians through her work in community development and her Grandmother Elizabeth (Betty) Pearce, who has been a prominent Aboriginal activist in the Northern Territory, Australia and Internationally.

Ella Noah Bancroft

Ella Noah Bancroft is a Bundjalung woman, descendant of the Bundjalung peoples of Northern NSW and with blood lines to Scotland and England. She is a change-maker, artist, storyteller and an active advocate for The Decolonisation movement. Through her writing and work Ella has been promoting re-wilding, the rise of the female energy, as a way back to deep relationship nature and decolonizing  of personal, social and ecological well-being for 10 years.

Ella is the founder and director of The Returning, a Not-for-profit gathering that takes place just outside of Byron Bay, Australia. The Returning is a 2 day event that provides a place for all women, all walks of life to come together to relearn the way of their past, to connect to herbalism, activism, motherhood, health, movement and deep connection to the land.

Ella believes in local communities with local economies as a way to find hope for the health of our planet and people. That by creating small movements and communities of women to reconnect back with our wisdom, each other and the land that we can solve a lot of the  root causes of our current social and environmental crises. 

“Women are the backbone to our society, and healthy mothers who are healers create healthy communities of humans who care.” – Ella Noah Bancroft 

Ella Noah Bancroft also curates the female-led interview podcast “It Takes Courage To Tell The Truth” to explore the myths of society and the world of womanhood.