Community Spotlight: Meagan Gerrard from Coota Girls
Introducing Meagan Gerrard – Project and Communications Manager at Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation
I am a proud Wailwan and Gamilaroi Woman living and working on Gubbi Gubbi Country. I’m excited to share about the story and deadly work of Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation, where I’m proud to work as Project and Communications Manager.
What inspired the founders to create the Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation?
In 1912, the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls was established on Wiradjuri Land as a training institution for Aboriginal girls who had been removed from family, community and Country under the Aborigines Protection Act (1909-1969). The girls who were taken to Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls (1912-1969) experienced abuse, systemic racial discrimination and alienation from family, culture and identity. They were trained to be servants and were sent to non-Indigenous households where they were afforded no protection, subjected to harsh conditions, experienced all forms of abuse, and had their wages paid into the Board’s trust accounts which many never saw.
For many Coota Girls Survivors, the forced removal, institutionalisation and assimilation they faced as children created complex trauma that has impacted them personally, spiritually, emotionally, socially and physically. This trauma is passed on to subsequent generations in complex and sometimes heightened ways if healing does not occur.
In 2010, a courageous group of thirty-two Survivors of the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls (1912-1969) met on Gadigal Country to discuss their collective healing needs and aspirations to establish their own Stolen Generations Organisation. Three years later in 2013, Coota Girls Survivors founded the Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation with the aim to ensure the social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the Coota Girls Survivors, their families and subsequent generations.
We are proud to say that Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation is still standing strong as a Survivor-led Stolen Generations Organisation. We work in a practical and holistic manner, in collaboration with community and funding partners, to deliver healing programs, provide direct practical support, advocate for policy change, share the Coota Girls story for truth-telling, raise awareness of the impacts of intergenerational trauma, and link Survivors and families to support services.
What does Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation and its vision mean to you?
As a third-generation descendant of a Coota Girls Survivor, the vision of Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation means so much to me and my family. My grandmother was stolen and taken to Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, where she was forced to live for 14 years of her life. I am grateful to have walked alongside her on her healing journey and to have worked with both her and my mother in various capacities to deliver their healing model across the nation.
I can still recall the day that my grandmother shared her story of forced removal and the devastating truths of what she, and so many other First Nations children, had endured. Since this day, I have had a strong determination and unrelenting passion to support our Survivors and families in their healing journeys ever since. As a mother of two beautiful boys, I am inspired to work toward change, brighter futures, and healing for our people.
What are you most proud of working with Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation?
As a Coota Girls descendant, my time with Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation spans from its inception to now. I have been so honoured to work in varying capacities across the organisation as it has allowed me to drive our operations, program creation and communications.
I love that every day I am able to, in some way, be at the community level to directly support our beautiful Coota Girls Survivors and families in their healing journeys. I’m extremely grateful to work with an amazing team of strong, deadly women, inspired by our amazing Board of Directors and surrounded by Coota Girls Survivors, families and the broader First Nations community.
How does Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation support and empower First Nations women?
Self-determination is fundamental for First Nations people and communities in overcoming the devastating and ongoing impacts of the Stolen Generations. As a Survivor-led organisation, everything we do is guided by the Coota Girls Survivors, their needs and aspirations for the future.
With guidance from our Coota Girls Survivors, we provide opportunities for collective healing and truth-telling for Survivors, their families and descendants. Fundamental to the journey of healing for Stolen Generations Survivors and their descendants are coming together, supporting each other, and reconnecting with our culture and identity. Our healing programs and events provide Survivors, their families and their descendants to share through yarning and story-telling, strengthen their identity, self and spirit, and reconnect to mob, family, Country and culture.
We also empower our Survivors by supporting them to advocate for the social, emotional and spiritual well-being of Survivors, their families and their descendants. Coota Girls Survivors have a long legacy of advocacy and activism and continue to advocate as Elders with the support of their Coota Girls sisters and the Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation.
How do you engage with the broader community to raise awareness and advocate for the rights and well-being of First Nations women?
Truth-telling and awareness raising is a crucial part of what we do. We recently launched our Stolen Generations Truth-telling and Education Sessions for workplaces, schools, universities and community groups. This is a unique opportunity to learn about the history of the Stolen Generations in NSW and hear directly from Coota Girls Survivors and descendants. If you would like to arrange a Stolen Generations Truth-telling and Education Session at your school or workplace, please reach out via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How can individuals or organisations outside of the community support and contribute to the work of Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation?
As a not-for-profit Stolen Generations organisation, we rely on limited government and project-based funding. Support from individuals and organisations helps us to continue to meet the social, emotional and spiritual well-being needs of Coota Girls Survivors and their descendants.
Individuals and organisations can make one-off or monthly donations to support the ongoing work of Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation. To donate, visit www.cootagirls.org.au/donations/
We also seek project-based donations and sponsorships. Keep up to date with sponsorship opportunities by following us on social media @cootagirls
Volunteering is another great way to get involved and contribute to our work. We seek volunteers to help out at our collective healing events and a range of other projects. We also love for our supporters to offer in-kind services in areas they specialise in. If you are interested in volunteering or providing in-kind services, reach out to us via email at email@example.com.
Are there any upcoming events, campaigns or projects that you would like to highlight or invite people to participate in?
Earlier this year in May 2023, Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation hosted our first-ever major public event for National Sorry Day. With the support of our community, our Stolen Generations Survivors enjoyed a beautiful space where they felt honoured and could spend the day together, take part in cultural activities and listen to some great music surrounded by family and friends. We also received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the broader community. This event would not have been possible without our generous corporate sponsors, in-kind providers and volunteers.
We are excited to announce that we will be hosting a Sorry Day Stolen Generations Community Gathering in May 2024! If you are interested in supporting next year’s event, please get in touch with us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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