Leah Pitt (27), a final year Arts student, is taking her bid for more youth consultation in Indigenous affairs to the United Nations this week.
A single mother of a nine-year-old son and a full-time student, Leah also has a cadetship with the Australian Trade Commission, where she works one day a week on projects including Austrade's monthly newsletter, visitors and events, and a capability report for the oil and gas industry.
She is one of four young Indigenous Australians to win a scholarship through Oxfam to take part in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, in New York for two weeks. (One of the other four is an Indigenous Law graduate from UWA, Tammy Solonec, who is a manager [law and ethics] for the Aboriginal Legal Service.)
"I am very interested in social equality," Leah said. "I am a Torres Strait Islander and my Mum was a French immigrant and a single parent, so I have seen this issue from many perspectives. I'm studying Anthropology for the social and cultural perspective and Political Science for the international view.
"But from any perspective, it is clear that young people are not represented in decision-making on Indigenous issues. We are a very young demographic and decisions at government level that will affect our future should be made with our consultation."
Leah, the only student in the group, met another member, Kathryn Stone from South Australia, at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Human Rights Commission in Sydney and they began to prepare their intervention for the forum.
"We have recommended better consultation for youth but have not gone into the details of how it could be accomplished, partly because it is not specifically about Australian Indigenous people but Indigenous people from all over the world," Leah said.
After completing a Political Science unit in global governance last year, Leah did a four-day Oxfam Diplomacy Training Program at UWA in February. The program is aimed at Indigenous people's human rights and advocacy skills.
"I didn't realise at the time that the program was a pre-requisite to apply for the Oxfam scholarship to the UN . I'm so glad I did it."
Leah and Kathryn have applied for speaking rights at the forum but will not know if they will get their three minutes on the floor until after the forum has started.
"Our intervention and all the others will be put together and reported to the UN Human Rights council," she said.
"I am so blessed to have my cadetship to help me through my study. I have thought of doing law but I couldn't manage financially to keep studying after this year.
"The University has been so helpful to me: the School of Indigenous Studies (Gabrielle Garratt and Dr David Paul in particular), the administration, the Guild, Arts (especially Barbara Goldflam and Elizabeth Oliver in the Student Centre) and the Vice-Chancellor.
"Professor Robson has given me $1,000 to help with my expenses in New York."