As a proud Kariyarra woman, Rikki-Lee Watkins has made it her job to ensure all Kariyarra people are guaranteed a sustainable, secure, and inclusive future in Hedland.
Born in Hedland, Rikki-Lee spent much of her childhood in the Pilbara, growing up in Kununurra before moving back to her country, to which she has always felt a strong connection.
“Hedland is home for me. This is where I was born, this is where my ancestors were, this is where we originate from,” she said.
“It is a deeper connection.”
Having worked in the mining sector for eight years, Rikki-Lee needed a change after her son was diagnosed with autism two years ago. There was an opportunity to join Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation in the administration team. Before long, Rikki-Lee rose through the ranks to become the first Kariyarra person in a management position.
Her role as Relationships Manager allows her to get into the wider community and educate partners and stakeholders about Kariyarra culture, advocating for more opportunities for Kariyarra people to ensure they continue to survive and one day thrive in the Pilbara.
“We have to co-exist. At the end of the day, we are never going anywhere,” she said.
“This is our country. So, it’s important that we have an input as to what is happening in our country and having our representation and how we want things to look.”
In a town full of industry, wealth and opportunity, Rikki-Lee wants to ensure Kariyarra people are included and empowered to be a part of that success.
“Being able to expose Kariyarra people to the opportunities that exist and empowering them to have that information and to make informed decisions about things that are affecting our community, I get a great sense of satisfaction from that,” she said.
Rikki Lee says she feels a personal sense of duty to her ancestors and to future generations to protect culture, language and heritage.
“Our stakeholders are learning something new each time they meet with KAC, so I enjoy that side of it, creating that inclusiveness with the things happening in our country,” she said.
“In Hedland’s future, I’d like to see that the whole Kariyarra community is involved in the representation and reflection of their country.”
Kariyarra Aboriginal Corporation CEO Nicholas Green said Rikki-Lee is becoming a strong leader.
“She is very inclusive and is always looking for solutions that work with Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people to come together for the future of Hedland.”
Championing culture and heritage is hugely important for the Hedland community, which is why Rikki-Lee is a true Hedland Hero.