STRONG WOMEN CARING FOR HEALTHY COUNTRY ACROSS GENERATIONS
On a searing afternoon among the wetlands on Limilngan-Wulna Country in the Northern Territory, Arrernte woman from Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and Central Land Council member Jody Kopp and her daughter Armani Francois hold hands at the 2023as they step forward and join several other strong Indigenous women in taking a very special pledge. On , we proudly share this moment at a unique gathering.
“Attending the Strong Women for Healthy Country Forum] makes me feel alive, and it makes me just feel so happy”, Jody says. When we come together, the feeling is overwhelming, but also just so powerful, the power that we have as one voice and all of us together. You just feel like, “that's my tribe”.
From little things, big things grow
A few years ago, the Strong Women for Healthy Country Network began with a group of strong Indigenous women and a shared vision.
From its beginnings in 2019, this unique network, proudly hosted by, has grown to over 200 members, united by their passion for nurturing Country and supporting strong Indigenous women dedicated to caring for nature and community.
Jody reflects on what being a strong woman means to her. “A strong woman comes in many forms, but a strong woman is someone who allows others to lead,” Jody says. “Someone who has compassion and humility, and someone who leads with love, understanding, care, and honours each and every person for their individuality. That's what a leader is to me.”
Passing the Message Stick
An important part of the Strong Women for Healthy Country Network is the Message Stick group. The Message Sticks are a self-elected representative body that meets and makes decisions on behalf of the whole Strong Women for Healthy Country network. The Message Stick group convenes regularly to meet with Traditional Owners, plan upcoming forums, identify key partnerships and more.
“I absolutely love this forum,” says WWF-Australia’s Women Rangers Environmental Network coordinator, proud Yuin woman and fellow forum participant. “It's my third Strong Women for Healthy Country Forum. Every time I come, I leave feeling a little bit more connected, a bit more empowered, a bit more uplifted, and more hopeful. It's so amazing hearing from all these women.”
At each annual Strong Women for Healthy Country forum, the Message Sticks have the opportunity to continue on or step down as a member and for new members of the Message Sticks to step forward. As Jody and Armani hold hands and step forward, a proud mother welcomes her daughter to the Message Sticks group, committing to step up to the responsibilities of supporting their whole network.
Caring on Country is a shared responsibility
Jody believes that the women in the Strong Women for Healthy Country Network are uniquely empowered to make a real difference, not just in their own communities but nationwide. “I believe in what it is that all of the ladies from throughout the Northern Territory that work on Country,” Jody says. “I believe what it is that we all are trying to achieve is something absolutely magical when it comes to Country and preserving our law and culture. By being on land and being together collectively, only magic can happen.”
Speaking to a group of women at the forum, Armani was clearly moved by the atmosphere enveloping her at the week-long event. “Coming in yesterday off the plane from Alice and walking into this, I just instantly got goosebumps. I was like, ‘Wow, there's so many women.’ And I think, I don't know if I'm the only one, but you can just feel this immense energy and this kind of gravitation towards each other.
On night one of the conference, there was a series of short documentaries shown that were filmed at last year’s forum, and one spoke to Armani in particular. “The documentary that we watched yesterday where a girl said, ‘let's be the people that plant seeds, that will never sit under the same shade’…that hit me.”
Jody, clearly aware of the pressure facing Armani and other future changemakers, echoes the sentiment. “I know that when I see my kid or any of my kids up there representing our mob, I just feel so proud. And the struggle I’ve been through, I had to do it. I had to do it so that we could be at this point now, you know?”
A bright future of meaningful impact
As a Northern Territory Youth Round Table member and Central Land Council representative at only 18, Armani is already signalling a bright future of meaningful impact. By joining the Message Sticks, Armani is further continuing a long tradition in their family of strong women proudly representing their community.
“I come from a long line of staunch and amazing warriors in my family, from my great-grandmothers to my grandmothers to my mothers and also the next generation, who are my daughters,” Jody says. “They teach me, you know, and they guide me in so many different ways that opens my mind to a whole new world.”
A long line of strong Arrernte women
Jody and Armani are part of a long, generational tradition of passing on the values and obligations of strong Arrernte women - they feel it’s their destiny (not just duty) to help look after Country and community. It’s a journey that’s not always easy, but for Armani, it’s one where you don’t have to look far to find inspiration to keep moving forward.
“I don't think it's always been rainbows and sunny days,” admits Armani - attending the week-long forum just after returning from the three-day Hands on Heart Youth Voice National Conference. “Once I hit home soil, I just rejuvenated after the conference, and I just felt so refreshed again and so ready to be here [at the Strong Women for Healthy Country forum]. I think underneath all of this, when you don't know why you're doing things, you just think of your Nannas, really. I just think of my Nannas and why I'm here and if I'm doing them proud.”
A crucial part of continuing this tradition is education and Knowledge sharing.
Both Jody and Armani feel groups like the Strong Women for Healthy Country network are vital for a bright future for nature and community. “Strong women and healthy Country is really, really important because when we are here, we're not just surviving ourselves. We have each and every one of us here to lean on and to support us and give us that strength that we need,” says Jody., And Armani couldn’t agree more, saying the Strong Women for Healthy Country network and forum “is so much bigger than all of us. It's gonna be here for our daughters and their daughters.”
No matter what the future holds, Jody is confident that her community will be stronger with strong young women like Armani being an active part of the journey forward.
Jody says, “We are the First Nations people of this Country. We go through the same fight. And that's why when I know that, you know, when it comes to Armani, I don't have to worry. All of my children knew, not just Armani, that education was really important. All of them are able to navigate through both (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) worlds, and when they speak, know that they speak with authority.”
With sincere thanks to, , and .