Mob Pod: Shantelle Thompson - Kiilalaana Foundation
Shantelle Thompson is a proud Barkindji/Ngiyampaa/European woman of descent, a proud mother of 5 children and Aunty to many more. She is a Master life weaver, weaving together life, motherhood, culture, being an athlete, storyteller, Indigipreneur, Social & Equity Justice advocate and Warrior Heart movement. Shantelle has fought to move through and heal from intergenerational and lived trauma and in doing so became the Barkindji Warrior, 3-time Jiu Jitsu world champion and the Warrior Heart.
The choices and decisions made by Shantelle are her own and this podcast is about her journey and not intended to be advice.
LG: Hello everyone, I’m Lisa Gissing from Westpac’s Davidson Institute, and we’re really lucky to be speaking today with Shantelle Thompson, OAM and Chief Empowerment and Visionary Officer of Kiilalaana Warrior Kii. As 3 time Jiu Jitsu World Champion Shantelle may also be known to many of you as the Barkindji Warrior. Welcome Shantelle.
ST: Ngayi Lisa thank you so much for having me really excited to be here.
LG: Before we begin, I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands in which we all meet. I'm coming to you today from Wiradjuri country in southern NSW and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. I also acknowledge and pay my respects to those here today who identify as being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and recognise the diversity of Indigenous peoples, Countries, and culture in Australia.
As Australia's first bank we acknowledge our role in supporting an inclusive and diverse nation where all of our cultural backgrounds are recognised and respected.
Shantelle, let's start today with your story and also too some of the programs that you now run.
ST: I would also like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I'm currently living, working, playing, and raising my family which is the Latji Latji people.
I'm across the river from my own country, the Barkindji mob and I pay my respects to our elders both past and present and thank them for their unceding sovereignty and connection to Culture and to Country, and to our old ways because without their sacrifices and their leadership I wouldn't be here today proudly calling myself and being able to connect and acknowledge my cultural heritage is a Barkindji and Ngyampaa woman.
ST: And I also acknowledge all emerging leaders and all Countries across Australia's First Nations cultures. So, my story could take, take us on many different paths and journeys, but I guess the short and sharp version of it is, is that I'm a proud Barkindji - Ngyampaa woman. I'm a mother of five. I'm the third eldest of 18 siblings.
ST: And I am an athlete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I'm known as the Barkindji Warrior and the carrier of the Warrior Heart which is about standing in your power being your truth and following your heart and having the courage to, I guess heal from your past and your circumstances, so that you can define your own future and your own families don't become victims of your trauma or your past.
ST: And that's really kind of created my pathway through to entrepreneurship and founding the businesses - as I see them, I have Shantelle Thompson as the, as the thought leader and the subject matter expert, the Barkindji Warrior is the message and the role model and the journey that I'm sharing through being an athlete and that pathway to following your dreams, wellbeing in overcoming adversity through my path into Jiu Jitsu.
ST: I have the Kiilalaana Foundation which is the majority of what we're going to be talking about today, which is in its current iteration we have the Kiilalaana Tidda’s program which means – Tidda means sister and Kiilalaana means growing. And in that we support First Nations young women from the ages of 10 to 25 in different programs to connect and strengthen their identity as young Aboriginal women.
ST: Focused on self-development as a pathway to creating their own path and to become a part of a collective of young women who are supported and nurtured to be in their power and to focus on the potential of who they can become beyond any adversity or narrative around lack or problems that they may be facing.
ST: And our work is currently supported through grants. We do weekly programs, we do gatherings, and we do mentoring. And then I have the Kiilalaana company which we run leadership programs and trauma informed self-development programs and workshops in schools and organisations.
LG: And so why did you start the businesses?
ST: In 2016 I was working as a social worker for members of the Stolen Generation and their families and I was trying to juggle a full time self-funded career in Jiu Jitsu, being the sole income earner for my family trying to study to I guess build my qualifications to be able to I guess.
ST: increase my earning potential to be able to support my family and also my dreams to live out my own potential but to be able to have an impact beyond myself in my community. And at the time I was actually, I’d qualified for the national wrestling team and I was on track to qualify for the Olympics but obviously with an intensive training regime and intensive competition regime.
ST: meant that I was requesting a lot of time off work and my CEO and employer at the time sat me down and said look we love you we love your vision and your energy, but we can't sustain your position because as a small organisation they needed someone who could be there and be present because as they said, they didn't employ me to work they employed me to be there. And I had a choice to choose between my dreams or postponing my dreams and my job, so I quit.
ST: I had no other avenues or pathways at that point and then two weeks later I got a phone call asking me to run a workshop and to share my story at a youth leadership program. And they said all I needed was an ABN and an invoice and I Googled how to do both those things. And a week later I was delivering a workshop and I was charging an invoice. For the first four years in business that's pretty much all I did.
ST: It organically grew from there so that's how I guess Shantelle Thompson and the Barkindji Warrior spaces kind of grew is the Barkindji Warrior sharing the story and Shantelle Thompson was the teacher and the subject matter expert which was courage, resilience and self-development at that time and then it's just the journey’s been evolving from there.
ST: Kiilalaana Foundation came about in 2020 when I moved home from Melbourne back to regional Victoria up in Mildura. Due to Covid and my business and Jiu Jitsu being shutdown we made the decision to bring our kids home to country to be with family
ST: because there's a big difference between being Aboriginal and being Tongan which both my children and their main heritages that we identify with and growing up in your community and surrounded by your mob and other influences. But when I came home, I got offered a job as a Koori Engagement Support Officer.
ST: I kept getting in trouble in my job because our job’s about policy and empowering schools and educators to implement Koori culture into the curriculum whereas all I wanted to do is work with the youth and empower them. And in that space I was trying to find referral pathways or programs for some of the young people that were struggling with mental health and
ST: I guess needed a boost from a mentor and a healthy connection to a sense of purpose outside of themselves and the struggles that they were facing, and I couldn't find anything. We've got a lot of resources and support that very stretched resources geared towards the crisis end of our community and youth.
ST: So, in order for these young people to qualify for support they needed to be in family violence, youth justice or child protection, or they needed to be the elite that was already kind of getting the straight A's or the sports stuff or identified as leaders. If you kind of sit in the middle, there weren't really much services there.
ST: So, I, well I was three months pregnant with my son, my youngest baby and working full time I decided to pull together a Facebook post and say I'm going to start this program. I found a space to support us and in our first session we had 30 young women walk through the door and it showcased the need, and my idea and my drive behind starting the foundation, which at the time it was just an after-school program.
ST: This idea grew out of something that started back in 2013 when I first moved to Melbourne or if I'm honest it started at 15 when I wanted to work with young people and empower them. It's been an idea that's been evolving and growing, and I just felt called to start to create a safe space for First Nations young women to come together to strengthen their identity and connection to, to Culture.
ST: But also, to have a space to be challenged to understand they have to be the change in their own lives that they want to see. That the world and the messages that we constantly get as women and as Aboriginal women is that we are a problem, we are an issue, or we are defined by our trauma or the challenges that we face in the statistics of we’re eight times more likely to be incarcerated or 10 times more likely to be killed by family violence and stuff like.
ST: That’s the narrative that our girls are born into, but it doesn't have to be the story that they create,
LG: Why do you believe money skills are important to a person's overall wellbeing?
ST: I think it goes even deeper than money skills. I think money skills is just the surface of knowing what money is, knowing how not only to handle money but how to to be with money. Particularly if you've grown up with financial stress or poverty and in a low socio-economic background where you’re living week to week or cheque to cheque or even beyond that like money is a constant stressor.
ST: You get the story that money is bad. Particularly from an Aboriginal perspective around money is used for capitalism and it's very individualistic. It’s things like that or if you do have money, it can become a toxic obligation to support your family members that may be struggling or who may not be willing to work as hard as you or to do what they need to do to get ahead.
ST: So, there's many underlining things there. But it's also about a money mindset, money energy that redefining our relationship with money as, as a culture and as individuals is required. In that the reality is, is that we need money to pay our bills and to support our families.
ST: But also when you have money, you have freedom to have - it can support you to have impact and be able to move in the world in a way that is empowering and that supports not only your bottom line but frees you up to be able to have the impact to do the kind of work that you want to be able to do.
ST: So, money skills is very important in creating economic freedom and self-determination. And it also is about teaching beyond money skills. It's also about the conversation around wealth creation and intergenerational freedom of being able to have opportunities of buying back our land, supporting causes that are important to us.
ST: Because philanthropy and government grants force you to twist yourself or twist your vision into something that fits their priorities just so you can get funding. And that's something I've learned strongly through starting a foundation and seeking funding.
ST: Like a lot of people talk about the work that is very much needed that I'm doing yet having to jump through hoops to find people who want to support the work that I'm doing as I'm doing it, rather than them saying how well it could be done this way, or we want you to do it this way in order for you to qualify for our funding.
ST: So, when we talk about financial literacy in our programs, it's not just about budgeting and learning about saving, but we talk about wealth creation and money is a vehicle towards freedom and self-determination.
LG: What would be your advice to any other community members out there looking to start their own business or indeed their own foundation?
ST: I think it's first getting really clear on what it is you want to do in business and what's the purpose of your business. Because there's a lot of start-up programs and support. Indigenous business is a set pathway supporting Aboriginal self-determination and intergenerational wealth and freedom and legacy.
ST: And we can see that with some of the examples in, say America for example, with stories like Madam CJ Walker and Oprah Winfrey who are now so financially independent that they could invest in whatever areas they choose. Patty Mills is a good example of someone who has money and influence and who is now able to support and invest in things like the Indigenous Basketball Association.
ST: So, when you're looking at, or you have an idea to solve a problem or the urge to start a business. First off one of the most important things is getting support around your idea and understanding. But also trusting in your heart and your gut. Because what my struggle has been in my business is that all the conventional advice of niche down, who's your client avatar and where did they dress, and how do they shop, and how they talk, didn't fit with how I wanted to do business.
ST: And it's only been recently through constantly sitting with that question and going what is business to me, and how do I want to do business in alignment with my Aboriginal ways of being. Which is about reciprocity, it's about impact investment. It's about doing business in a way that's sustainable for my family and honouring of my cultural practices and the impact I want to have.
ST: And it's also about understanding, what are your foundational obligations as a business, as a sole trader? What are your tax obligations? What are your financial obligations in your setup? Like what's the bare minimum revenue and all that sort of conversation. Then where can you find the 101 of business. But also, on the other side of things how can you learn to do business in a way that honours how you want to do business so that you're running your business not your business running you.
ST: And also, learning to trust in your gut and going with that doesn't sit or work for me so I'm going to keep exploring and being curious until I find a way that works for me or answers the questions that I have about what I want to do in business? Why I want to do it? And what kind of revenue numbers am I seeking to support either the vision that I have or support the business so that I can also support myself.
ST: One of the biggest things is making sure that you're paying yourself. Even if it's $10 a month or $100 a month. Because often business owners and founders will pay themselves last thinking I've got to reinvest back into the business. But you as the founder, get the support around you as the creator and as the founder. Because you are the visionary and that's why I call myself the CEVO, Chief Empowerment and Visionary Officer because I'm a great visionary but I'm not a great executor.
ST: So now what I'm doing is I'm trying to find the support or the partners in both my foundation and my business, that can support me to be that visionary, to do the work but not necessarily now being able to bring in structure and systems and strategy. That's where I'm starting to find team members or partners who can bring in those strengths and balance out of what I do so we can grow and scale.
LG: Some amazing words of wisdom there, thank you. What does Reconciliation Week mean to you, and how will you be marking the occasion this year?
ST: I really love this year’s theme like, Be Brave and Make Change because to me Reconciliation is first about reconciling within myself, the truth of our history and its impact on my journey and experience, of being a fair skin Aboriginal woman in modern day Australia.
ST: And what that means for me and my family, and what access I do have to Cultural practises, and what resources I have to learn, and practise my culture. But also, I focus now a lot. I believe in Reconciliation and I'm a big supporter of Reconciliation Action Plans and organisations that are stepping into that space.
ST: From my place of wanting to have true impact and connection. So, for me, Reconciliation is about focusing my efforts on supporting those allies and those changemakers who have the energy and the capacity to want to drive the change, either through their work or through themselves. And leaning on the people who have the capacity and the influence to create and drive the change.
ST: Because when those changes happen it supports my children. It creates a more equitable Australia. So, for me this year I'll be focusing my efforts and energy on trying to get as many speaking opportunities as I can to support the education and the movement of Reconciliation across corporate Australia. Because that's where I believe our biggest opportunities are to create and drive change through that influence. Because big money, big companies talk, and they can have an influence.
ST: We see it through sport in Australia all the time when organisations like the AFL speak, they make an impact, and it moves so much faster than government organisations. And how I'll be marking it is supporting my children’s schools by offering, by volunteering my services to support local efforts.
ST: Our organisation will be creating an event where young Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal women can come together to, to share culture and, and learn to walk that Reconciliation journey. And to sit with my children and go well, what does reconciliation mean for us and, and how are we being the change that we want to see. But what challenges are my children facing that they need support with in, in that journey or the areas that they, that they sit in?
ST: So quite a few things there but weaving them altogether is all about having that impact and being voice for change.
LG: Now finally, if any of our listeners would like to get in contact with you, or find out more information, where or how can they do this?
ST: I could be found on LinkedIn or Facebook under Shantelle Thompson and if people would like to get in touch with me, they can send me an email at email@example.com. Or you can just chuck my name into Google, and you'll find lots of resources there about my story and, and the work that I do if you're curious and would like to know more.
LG: Speaking with Shantelle Thompson, OAM and Chief Empowerment and Visionary Officer at Kiilalaana Warrior Kii. Thank you so much Shantelle for your time today.
ST: Thank you for having me.
The choices and decisions made by Shantelle are her own and this podcast is about her journey and not intended to be advice.