Mardi Gras appoints First Nations & Community Engagement Officer

Matika Little, the First Nations & Community Engagement Officer of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Photo: supplied.

By DAMIEN NOVAK

The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has appointed a First Nations & Community Engagement Officer in a bid to be more inclusive of Indigenous Australian communities.

Matika Little, a proud Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi woman, has been appointed to the role, to support Mardi Gras and create opportunities to celebrate and connect with First Nations People within the organisation and its program of events.

Ms Little, who originally hails from the NSW Riverina city of Wagga Wagga, is known for her public speaking and media work, including her podcast Coming Out, Blak.

“I’m really excited to be joining the team at Mardi Gras. It’s great to be stepping into a role that combines two major parts of my identity and is so interlinked with my passions,” said Ms Little, whose career to date has encompassed roles in Indigenous and LGBTQI+ education, employment and advocacy.

“I want to acknowledge the trail blazers that have come before me and those who are out in community making waves now,” she said.

“A big focus point for me will be ensuring we have strong relationships with LGBTQIA+ First Nations organisations so we can work together in supporting our community.”

In 2019, Mardi Gras and Sydney World Pride joined forces to form the First Nations Advisory Committee – the first formal committee to give both organisations guidance on how to engage with and elevate First Nations LGBTQI+ people, as well as Sistergirl and Brotherboy culture. 

“Our First Nations LGBTQIA+ mob deserve representation and the opportunity to be included in decision making processes. This role is yet another step towards that and the results will see greater First Nations representation and programming for our incredible community,” Ms Little said.

Her appointment follows criticism of Mardi Gras by the Pride in Protest group on racial issues, including concerns about Mardi Gras’ relationship with Indigenous and asylum seeker communities.

Pride in Protest campaigned earlier this year for Mardi Gras to take an official stand against mandatory detention and forced deportation of refugees, black deaths in custody and alleged over-policing of Indigenous communities, among other issues.

The group’s campaign included a splinter gathering at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst on the Saturday, 6 March – just hours before this year’s Mardi Gras Parade at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG).

Organisers claimed 3,000 people attended the event, which, they said, harked back to the “radical roots” of Mardi Gras as a “proud protest”.

While Mardi Gras did not acquiesce to Pride in Protests’s demands, the organisation ensured there was strong Indigenous representation at this year’s SCG parade, including a Welcome to Country and an Indigenous smoking ceremony.

The First Nations float, which had its debut at the 1988 Mardi Gras Parade, adopted a ‘Black Lives Matter’ theme this year, including banners marking the number of Indigenous deaths in custody along with a sequinned Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flag.

The First Nations float at the 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Video: William Broughman/YouTube.

In a statement on Thursday about First Nations representation at Mardi Gras and Ms Little’s new role, Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger said: “Our Australian First Nations people are the oldest continuous culture in the world, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQI+ Sistergirl and Brotherboy communities have their own distinct voices to share.

“Through the guidance of Matika and our First Nations Advisory Committee, we plan on further building cultural competence and strong relationships between LGBTQI+ First Nations people, our organisation, partners and wider community.”