I am Sasha Kutabah Sarago, a proud Wadjanbarra Yidinji and Jirrbal woman. And the founder of Ascension — Australia's first digital lifestyle platform for women of colour. If you ask me what I am most passionate about, I'd say Country and bringing women, often forgotten, to the forefront. How do I do this — through storytelling.
This International Women’s Day, I encourage you to carve out space to spark conversations about the women who came before us and what we can do to care for Country.
IWD encourages women to be unabashedly audacious — unrelenting in their commitment to advancing womankind. Let us be reminded that a woman's power base is not restricted solely to the hierarchy, STEM, management and equal pay. IWD is not the only platform to #BreakTheBias but #BreakThePattern on how, when and where we execute change.
When the 8th of March rolls around each year, for me personally, there is an awkward silence, when asked what IWD means to me? In the past, I've been polite and offered statements of solidarity to uplift the sisterhood. Don't get me wrong. I meant every word. I now know standing in my truth is far more impactful than run of the mill platitudes.
For years I found it hard to pinpoint where I, a First Nations woman, fit into the IWD narrative. I asked my peers at IWD breakfasts whether they resonated with this year's theme. Hoping somehow, they had the answers to squelch my uneasiness. When that failed, I eventually asked myself, 'Where do I belong?'
I belong to Country, but she does not belong to me. She is my bloodline, my medicine. I am her caretaker; she is my kin. I am here to honour and protect her, and in return, she bestows guidance and sustenance across the six seasons.
I often get asked what does connection to Country mean to me.
Country is strength and stability; it's where I'm centred; it's my future. Nothing can progress, be birthed or move forward without Country.
My spirit is embedded in Country regardless of where I am.
We are all connected to Country whether we realise it or not. We may have different words, terms, or modalities to describe our relationship. But in essence, we are a collective of spirits gathering in appreciation in the here and now, whether expressed through meditation, tai chi, yoga, Pilates, running, hiking, canoeing, or surfing.
We all call upon Country for clarity and vitality in our unique way. Our minds, bodies and souls are dependent on mother Earth to maintain our health and well-being. As much as we partake of the abundance she shares with us — balance is required. When you connect to Country, are you also caring for (her) Country?
In the corporate world, we talk about changing the culture. How can we create change when we are not intimate with the First culture?
The First women who carry a lifetime of stories, wisdom, and solutions 60,000 years and beyond. The world's oldest, continuous living culture. To address the inequities experienced by women, we need to heal our relationship with (her) the land. Go back to when female empowerment was not limited to a board room filled with men but found on the rivers, deep within bushlands.
To my Sydneysiders who live on Eora Country, do you know the stories of Barangaroo and Patyegarang — their inspiring legacies? When I moved to Sydney their stories found me, and I share them proudly.
Barangaroo, a fierce Cammeraygal woman, was revered for her intellect and independence. In her tribe, the Eora women proudly upheld the role of primary food providers. As fisherwomen, they traversed the Sydney Harbour, catching just enough to feed their families. After witnessing British colonists haul an abundance of salmon from the north shore in one day, Barangaroo knew this flagrant act threatened the Eora women's cultural authority.
Despite the increasing British influence, Barangaroo rejected colonial customs to save her traditional lifestyle. A brave stance considering her husband Bennelong eventually conformed to their modern ways. Ultimately, Barangaroo remained true to who she was.
Another Eora woman named Patyegarang — at the tender age of 15 was considered the first linguist — a diplomat and educator. Patyegarang's friendship with First Fleet naval officer Lieutenant William Dawes established a cultural exchange. Teaching him her language, through Patyegarang's generosity and Dawes historical notebooks, their reciprocal relationship ensured the survival of the Gadigal language.
Patyegarang's trust in Dawes enabled her to translate, negotiate, and settle conflict to pursue peace with the British on behalf of her people.
Barangaroo and Patyegarang led with integrity at the height of colonisation — powerfully and authentically.
What if we stepped outside the concrete jungle and incorporated the principle of women's business — a distinct separation of roles and responsibilities entrusted to First Nations (women). A gathering that edifies their individuality but, when conjoined with men's business, equally contributes to the betterment of the community. Imagine if we acknowledged women's contributions as a treasure, not a threat.
For women's business to thrive, are we preserving the land so First Nations women can birth safely on their Country? Are we invested in the protection of sacred birthing trees and sites? Are we ensuring the healing waters are clean? Is Country healthy enough to plant and harvest for food, medicine, and weaving; hold ceremonies, to sing, dance, and share language and knowledge with the next generation. Will our totems and kin be able to flourish?
To show your gratitude for Country and the phenomenal women who we know and are yet to meet, here are some actions to get you started:
1. Seek out your matriarchs to learn about their stories over a cuppa.
2. Learn about Country – her stories, her people. Do you know the traditional custodians and lands where you live, play and operate?
3. Engage with First Nations women, businesses and cultural activities all year round.
4. How can you speak the names of First Nations women into rooms of change, innovation and opportunities.
5. How are you helping to conserve Country? Volunteer, support, or donate to Caring for Country initiatives on the traditional lands you call home and enjoy.
Country is our common ground to forge equality to elevate and unify each other.
To learn more about First Nations women stories, business and culture visit Ascension.
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