On January 26 this year, Indigenous rapper and musician Nooky launched a new social enterprise called We Are Warriors in response to the lack of proper representation for young Indigenous people to look up to. We Are Warriors is here to put the spotlight on Indigenous role models and showcase Blak excellence to inspire younger generations to realise their own dreams.
As an Indigenous person working in Australian media, this project is incredibly exciting for me. Using successful Indigenous role models as a vessel to share stories of resistance, and resistance is exactly what young people need, especially given the dominantly negative portrayals of First Nations people that still runs rampant in the media.
To celebrate the successful launch and talk a bit more about how We Are Warriors (WAW) is inspiring the next Indigenous generation, Lifehacker Australia had a chat with the founder, Nooky.
How did We Are Warriors come about?
To us, We Are Warriors is a new and exciting social initiative, but for Nooky it’s something that he’s dreamed of doing for a long time. A dream that would soon become a reality once he started to speak with Ben Miles from R/GA.
“He was interested in learning about, you know, Indigenous culture and the stuff we kind of deal with on a day-to-day basis. We got to talking and I told him some of the, you know, some of my dreams and aspirations and yeah, We Are Warriors was one of them… It originally had a different shape and form but things started to evolve naturally.”
WAW is also something that Nooky felt was long overdue and young Indigenous people needed a place where they can see people like them thriving and succeeding.
Meet the Warriors
There are currently six Warriors that makeup WAW:
- Barkaa, a Malyangapa and Barkindji (where she derives her name from) musician/rapper.
- Kobi Dee, a Gomeri and Wodi Wodi rapper and podcast host.
- Nooky, a Yuin and Thunghutti rapper, producer and radio host. He is also the founder of We Are Warriors.
- Charlee Fraser, an Awabakal international fashion model and activist.
- Felicia Foxx, a Kamilaroi and Dunghutti storyteller and drag queen.
- Luke Currie-Richardson, a Kuku Yalanji, Djabugay, Munaldjali, Butchulla and Meriam contemporary dancer, videographer and poet.
Each of these Warriors has proven that you can succeed in life despite all the challenges thrown at you. I highly recommend you watch each of their introductory interviews.
A name born from pain
The most striking part about this social enterprise is the name, We Are Warriors. When you think of a warrior it evokes strength, pride, resilience and determination. These are all characteristics that Indigenous people have shown for centuries.
For Nooky, the name actually came from a pretty dark time in his life.
“The name came from back in my schooling days, experiencing racism in class and being told that Aboriginals are dirty savages and all that. It was pretty painful for me as a kid. It made me ashamed of who I was and that was the moment I realised I was Aboriginal,” Nooky explained.
“I didn’t know the difference before that moment. My mum was picking me up from school that day and I jumped in the car and started crying and asked, ‘We’re Aboriginal aren’t we?’ and she said, ‘Yes son, why’s that?’ I said, ‘Nah, I don’t want to be Aboriginal. I don’t want to be dirty.’ And she turned around and said to me, ‘We are not dirty people son, we were warriors.'”
“I can’t tell you how powerful that was and what that had done for me. So I’m just trying to share that. That’s how I got the name.”
As heartbreaking as Nooky’s story behind the name is, it is not an uncommon experience for young Indigenous people to be told that their culture is dirty or barbaric.
Still to this day, our education system is coloured with racism and children have their culture misrepresented to them in their place of learning. The damage those misrepresentations can cause Indigenous youth is relentless and these children will likely grow up with a shame surrounding their culture.
But what’s important is taking that trauma and using it to help inspire and lift up the rest of the community which is exactly what Nooky is doing with We Are Warriors.
When explaining how the racism he faced made him determined to be seen as a warrior, Nooky boiled it all down to the simple fact that he is stubborn.
“You tell me I can’t do stuff, I’m gonna go and do it just to prove you wrong. I was being told I’m not gonna do anything, so I made it my mission to go out and be something.
“Shit, if the teachers weren’t that mean or nasty or racist to me, I probably wouldn’t have done it. So I don’t know. I had the ability to use that as fuel and not everybody has that ability. So like that’s something we’re showing (with We Are Warriors). Use that as motivation to push, push for anything. That’s definitely what I did.”
Why launch We Are Warriors now?
Although Nooky started working on WAW back in 2018-2019, it was the Black Lives Matter movement and rallies in 2020 that helped pushed the launch of the social enterprise.
“Something was in the air (at the rallies),” he said. “That kind of gave it a bit of a push. Seeing all the issues there and what was going on and the lack of representation for us it just, yeah, it just stirred something up and we got to work.”
For many, seeing the Black Lives Matter movement was incredibly inspiring and paved the way for many important conversations about race relations, mistreatment of people of colour, and for Australia, Indigenous incarceration.
The mass attendance of these rallies also provided a glimmer of hope as there were more Australians than previously thought who were showing up and wanting to help lift up minority and Indigenous voices. It was this mass attendance that had a powerful impact on Nooky.
“To be honest, straight up, I spun out,” he said. “I did. I spun right out when I went to the rally in Sydney and I had seen so many people. It made me think back to when I was a teenager when it was only us. The non-Indigenous population, at the time, where I’m from back in Nowra just weren’t there.
“Yeah, so it did spin me out when I saw so many people in real life… because I was like, ‘Well, shit. Maybe things are starting to change.’ You know? So, yeah, it definitely did something, it fucking did something.”
Launching an Indigenous-led social enterprise on January 26 (Invasion Day) is a pretty monumental thing to do, but it wasn’t the originally planned date.
“To be honest, it wasn’t the original day. We had two previous launch days before that, but COVID kind of mucked it up. But as time progressed, it was like it was meant to happen. That was the only day for it to launch,” Nooky said.
“It just made all the sense in the world to launch on that day, you know, a day that’s surrounded with so many mixed emotions. There’s pain there, there’s sadness surrounding that day and it just made sense for us to launch something like this which is a drive for change, something that’s positive. We just wanted to take that day and inject something positive into it, give it some new life. Take a day that is associated with war and death and dispossession, and theft of land and birth something new on that day.”
A sign of turning tides
There was a lot of momentum going into this year’s January 26 with a lot more people protesting and standing up with Indigenous people this January 26. Not only that but also just the day before, the Australian Government bought the copyright to the Aboriginal flag meaning it is now open for the public to use.
For many, this was a hopeful sign that more people are becoming educated about the plight for Indigenous rights. For Nooky, it signals something deeper.
“I definitely feel that we’re at the beginning of the new era, or we’re at a turning point.
“The divide is still there, but there are more ears open now than previously and there are more eyes watching. People are more open to having these difficult conversations that no one was really open to having before. We still got a lot of work to do but I do feel like there is change, there is a slight shift in the momentum if that makes sense. Still obviously a lot of shit and a lot of bad things but I do feel like there is a shift in there”
How can this enterprise help Indigenous youth?
It doesn’t take long to realise how poorly Indigenous people have been treated by the colonial systems that are in place in this nation. It’s also something that the We Are Warriors website says is a driving force:
From birth, the odds are stacked against Indigenous kids. In a country where First Nations people make up less than 5% of the population, Indigenous youth account for 80% of all 10-year-olds behind bars. Systemic racism sees them taken away from their families and put in detention centres at 22 times the rate of non-Indigenous kids. This is a hard reality to grow up with. So where do our young Mob go to feel inspired?
This mistreatment also goes hand-in-hand with a dangerous misrepresentation of Indigenous people in the media. Representations of deficit and defeat in Indigenous communities underpin mainstream media stories, where our people are really only ever addressed when there is a negative focal point.
We Are Warriors already believes they are filling this void by showing Indigenous kids that their lives have more value than what is being shown to them.
“To be honest, it’s serving its purpose.” Nooky said. “Everything we’ve set out for it to do, we’re seeing it. We’re getting emails from kids saying that they’re glad this is around and people saying, ‘We’ve needed something like this for a long time.’
“I’d love to see it (WAW) just live and grow, to be honest. To be a recognised brand and movement and purpose. Just to be self sustaining and to drive a difference around this joint. I’d love to see that. It’s just doing really well.
“I’m kind of, you know, I want to say in shock. Shock’s not the word, but I’m being a bit taken aback like, ‘Fuck, we’re doing this. This is happening,’ you know? The support and the reaction and the response has been positively overwhelming. It’s just given me the drive to go harder, you know?”
When I asked how We Are Warriors can help break the lifelong misrepresentations in media, Nooky explained it perfectly:
“By making us look fly as fuck. By making us the look like the coolest, fiercest people and represent us properly.
“I feel like there’s always been a certain perception of what we are and what we do. There’s only been certain levels that we can get to and achieve. We Are Warriors is the coolest shit I’ve seen. I want the kids to look at other Indigenous people who are smashing it and be like, ‘That’s mad, that’s what I want to do.’ People like Briggs, you know, Briggs had that effect on me as a young Blak fella and as an artist.”
If you can see it, you can be it
An aspect that’s unique about We Are Warriors is that each Warrior comes from a different industry and appeals to a different audience. The common thread between them all is that they are all successful, strong Indigenous mentors.
“I picked each one of these Warriors for something different that they bring to the table,” Nooky said. “If you go and watch the interviews, you will see. I picked these guys because I knew that they could speak to specific things and stuff that’s close to them that I see gaps in and issues that our kids could need help with.
“There’s plenty more on the list. But this is the first. This is the frontline. That’s the initial six. That’s the first that ran out the gate but there’s more on the way, there’s more coming. We’re going to cover everything from fashion and sports music, community work, environmental work, science, technology, teaching and education, like there’s no limit to what a Warrior is. And we will show that.”
As someone who is both queer and Indigenous, it’s hard to find programs that exist to cater to our community. It’s important for young kids to know that all aspects of their identity are beautiful and you can be Blak and queer and still succeed.
Having LGBTQI+ Indigenous representation like Felicia Foxx was important for Nooky, especially to show young kids that there is no limit to what a Warrior is.
“In Felicia’s interview, if you watch it, you will see how fucking fierce (they are). It’s the only word, fierce.” Nooky said.
“I’d seen Felicia being very vocal on social media about a few things. I thought, ‘Solid, solid, you know, holding it down,’ and then it was at the first ever all-First Nations runway show for Australia Fashion Week and Felicia walked it. And I was like, ‘Yeah, powerful.'”
People like Felicia, Nooky, Barkaa, Charlee Fraser, Luke Currie-Richardson and Kobi Dee exist as Warriors to show that no matter how rocky the path may be, we are all on a journey to success.
For Nooky, this journey to success is particularly important for young kids to see, rather than just focusing on the end result.
“You can look at Patty Mills and think, ‘Patty Mills is the man,’ but you don’t know what Patty went through to get there, you know what I’m saying? We’ve all been through stuff and experience a lot of the same suffering these kids are facing in schools. Even outside of school, it’s everyday life so we’ve shown the success but also shown the hard side of it as well.”
Showing these journeys and these hardships also feeds into the WAW tagline: If you can see it, you can be it.
“Briggs is a best-selling author for writing a children’s book — like that pushes what you expect, that makes me want to write a book,” Nooky said. “Patty Mills started the Mills Foundation and he’s gone to Indigenous communities and built water tanks so they have access to fresh water and that makes me want to go do some hectic stuff like that. I’ve seen AIME once upon a time charter a little AIME flight. Fucking oath I wanna do a We Are Warriors flight around Sydney or something, you know what I mean? It’s like when you see what you can do, what is reachable, it gives you the aspiration to go and obtain it yourself and do it your own way with your own twist. If you can see it, you can be it.”
Language is a weapon
Although Nooky found his way into music because of his older cousin, there were a few other factors that drove him to succeed in making a living out of it.
“Music had a healing effect on me but one thing that really drove me to music was that they (European colonisers) came here and they told my people that we can’t talk our language,” he said. “Alright, then fuck that, I’m going to use your language back.
“I’m gonna use this as a weapon, I’m gonna use this to find out the bullshit. I’m gonna use this to talk about our history. So to me, being told, my people being told that you’re not allowed to talk your language no more then the English language, for me, became a weapon.”
Now he’s using that powerful weapon to lift up the next generation with We Are Warriors.
“Another part of We Are Warriors is the use of language and words of wisdom that the Warriros use, sharing and gifting their take on certain things about using language to uplift our people and motivate our people,” Nooky said.
“How many times do you hear it on the news? Aboriginal male this, that or you know, bad stuff, you always hear bad stuff about us. Just trying to talk positive about our people and positive messaging. Language and words is a big thing.”