Diamond Spirit: Instilling Confidence in Indigenous girls

Diamond Spirit Participants at the Firebirds captains run during Indigenous round 2021. Photo: Netball Queensland

In 2021, Jemma Mi Mi of the Queensland Firebirds is the only Indigenous player on a Suncorp Super Netball roster.

Netball Queensland, through the development of the Diamond Spirit Program, is looking to facilitate equal participation opportunities and the best possible start for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls across Queensland.

The Diamond Spirit Program is looking to instil confidence and to create a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in High School. The program uses netball as a vehicle to engage, empower, and educate young women in remote and regional communities.

The Diamond Spirit Program was established in 2015 after Netball Queensland CEO Catherine Clark identified a lack of opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls.

The Inner Sanctum spoke to Diamond Spirit Program Manager, Lee Wilson as well as Jemma Mi Mi, Program Ambassador about the program and its impact.

“When I started [at Netball Queensland] Cath, the CEO had started six months prior. She immediately identified the gaps and opportunities available to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls were afforded every possible opportunity on their learning journey,” Wilson told The Inner Sanctum.

Diamond Spirit and Firebirds warming up during the QLD Firebirds captains run

That’s when the concept of Diamond Spirit was born, which was in 2015.

“There is no program of its kind, with the exception of the Shooting Stars program in Western Australia, which is another amazing program.

“We get nowhere near the amount of funding other programs do so, our goal is two things: to provide equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls, but also get equity in funding.”

The Diamond Spirit program has three pillars that aims to get the best possible community engagement.

“The programs three pillars are engage, empower and educate,” Wilson explained.

“When we first started we were more focused on the remote community outcomes and we’ve now been delivering our engage and empower program up in the Cape for the past five years.

“We’re in nine remote communities up in the Cape and so the purpose of that is to provide netball opportunities for kids living in some of the most remote communities in Australia that don’t get access to the support we have in the south-east corner.”

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Unlike most aspiring netballers in Australia, these young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls don’t have access to associations or state teams. That’s where Diamond Spirit comes in by holding netball programs and community carnivals in those remote communities.

“We continue to deliver those programs,” Wilson said.

“We’ve got funding to expand this year which is amazing, and we’re heading up to the Torres Strait Islands and delivering netball programs on Thursday Island in 2021.

“We have an annual community carnival that brings those kids in from their remote communities.

‘There are no clubs, no associations, no state age. The pathway for the kids up there is community carnivals that the kids come into once a year so, there’s a lot more work we could do with a little more funding.”

Jemma’s involvement

Firebird Jemma Mi Mi has been involved in the program as an Ambassador for a number of years, holding the cause particularly close to her heart.

Wilson says that the girls look beyond Jemma as a netballer.

“I think the girls connect with Jemma more on a personal level before netball if that makes sense.

“It’s absolutely inspiring that Jemma is a high achiever in what she does, but I think what that’s translated to is that the girls can be high achievers in anything they want to do.

“Seeing an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander woman doing something at the highest level [is what] it provides for students. She’s an amazing role model not just for netball, but Jemma as a person.”

Mi Mi with the Diamond Spirit Girls during the Firebirds captains run

For Mi Mi herself, she doesn’t have an official title, but loves getting to the schools to meet the girls.

“I don’t know my job title, in a way I’m kind of like a Diamond Spirit ambassador… I just try to get out to the schools as much as possible,” Mi Mi told The Inner Sanctum

“One program is set up a Bremer State High School out of Ipswich and another is Cairns State High School.

“I try and connect with the girls on a more personal level. It’s kind of a two-way street for me, I love giving back to the girls and being a mentor.

“In a way but it always reminds me of what I am doing, that there is greater purpose than playing netball.”

The program has been embraced by the Queensland Firebirds, with more of the players wanting to get involved in the program.

“It’s been so embraced,” Mi Mi said.

“We had Indigenous Round in 2019, we got to meet the girls after the game and get to know them on a personal level.

“It’s so nice to see their faces and they get a big smile seeing all the netty girls and coming to the game. Especially when we embrace our culture they love it.

“All the Firebirds girls absolutely love the program and want to be more involved in it this year. We’ll be able to get not just me going to the schools, but more Firebirds girls.”

Since 2017, more than 2,500 students have had an opportunity to participate in the Diamond Spirit Program and 600 students have received direct educational mentoring and cultural support.

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