Proud Kamilaroi woman, Mikielah Leigh believes that everyone deserves a good life despite their hardships. After overcoming her own struggles, she decided to create a community movement based on unconditional kindness. She called it, Our Tribe.
Yaama*, my name is Mikielah Leigh. I am a 23-year-old Kamilaroi woman who has grown up on Darug land in Western Sydney. I am a big sister to five siblings, but most of all I am an Aboriginal Mental Health worker striving every day to support my people and community. Growing up was not easy. Due to government policies that have displaced Indigenous Australian people, including my family and our ancestors before us, I had no idea who I was or where I came from.
I have battled anxiety and depression. There were nights my family would scrape together our last coins to put food on the table. There were nights we had to stay in refugee housing, sleep on mattresses on the floor of friends’ houses and nights we would go without electricity or hot water.
I witnessed a lot of domestic violence and drug use at a young age. When I was in high school, two of my closest friends passed away. All of this has impacted my life massively. I developed an overwhelming sadness that I couldn’t handle so I decided to numb my pain by partying, drinking alcohol and taking drugs.
During this time I can hardly remember a weekend I was sober.
One night, I ended up in hospital after taking too many pills and drinking too much alcohol. Laying in the hospital bed I had an Aboriginal nurse taking care of me who said something that has really stuck with me: “You have two choices. You either help close the gap or you make it bigger”.
This was my turning point. I had five younger siblings looking up to me. This was not the role model I wanted to be for them or for any other young person in my community.
I had forgotten who I was. I am part of the oldest surviving culture in the world. With 60,000 years of culture and resilience pumping through my veins. I forgot the power I hold with being an Aboriginal woman. The power that my ancestors and my Elders hold. The power of my people. We are survivors.
All I needed was the unconditional love from my people and the support that I was given from my mentors and Elders at Muru Mittigar. They helped me start to heal and come back to myself again.
For four years I worked for Muru Mittigar, not only sharing my story but helping educate young boys and girls on our culture and the importance of kindness and love.
At age 21, I left Muru Mittigar and I began studying. Now, I am a full-time Aboriginal Mental Health worker and have launched a community movement called Our Tribe in the hope of largely contributing to closing the gap of poverty, mental health and educating our brothers and sisters on the serious effects of drug and alcohol in our communities.
I connect with community through social media encouraging people to spread awareness about mental health challenges and educate people on the effects of drugs and alcohol. I encourage people to donate pre-loved items to people in community then Our Tribe personalises the self-care kit to the person’s needs, adding some small gifts and words of encouragement as well for a little extra love.
Today, we have supported over 100 people.
Gifting kindness: Mikielah sits amongst donated pre-loved items ready to be packaged into self-care kits. Photo: Supplied.
Throughout my community work I came to realise that every single struggle, every single ‘hard time,’ my flaws and even traumas have made me the person I am today, the role model I am striving to be for young Aboriginal boys and girls like me who think they can’t do it, or can’t make it.
I believe that everyone is deserving of a good life despite what they may have been through and that everyone’s story and voice is important. And through the Our Tribe movement that is what we aim to do.
There is nothing that makes me happier than being kind to others. Whether it be a smile to a stranger or the incredible things we are doing through the Our Tribe movement. This however started by healing my inner demons, after all you cannot pour from an empty cup.
*Yaama means ‘hello’ in Gamilaroi, which is the language of Indigenous Australian people in northern New South Wales.