Sekari studies law for a more equal future
Raised in the regional Northern Territory town of Katherine, proud Jagalingou and Bandjin woman Sekari Butler discovered a passion for law and advocacy by chance.
After finishing school and travelling Australia extensively, Sekari returned and found employment as a receptionist at North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) in the Katherine office. It was here that she was exposed to Australia’s legal system.
“Prior to my time at NAAJA my exposure with the law was minimal," she says. "To gain an internal insight as to how much it disproportionately impacted our First Nations people, opposed to the news reports and other people’s opinions, ignited a spark to assist in creating change."
Sekari’s colleagues made her aware of the Bilata Legal Pathways Program, a partnership approach between NAAJA and Charles Darwin University, designed as a bridging course to encourage greater participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the study and practice of law.
“I’ve always wanted to go onto further education, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” she says.
The pre-law program allowed her to be immersed in the many facets of our legal system, including a mock court held in the Northern Territory Supreme Court that was televised on ABC national news.
By participating in a program like Bilata, Sekari suddenly found her dream career presenting itself to her.
The whole program was/is great. It’s a good pathway into seeing the potential of higher education and where it can take you – how far you can take yourself if given the opportunity.
After completing her assessments and graduating from the pathway program, CDU quickly offered Sekari a placement to study a Bachelor of Laws LLB.
“To say that I was stoked is an understatement. I had discovered a passion that had been lying dormant.”
Diving into uni life and advocacy
“I had no idea what Semester 1 in higher education would look like, especially since high school was a decade ago,” Sekari admits.
The first year of her degree was studied online from Katherine while still working full-time at NAAJA, but she eventually moved to Darwin for the on-campus experience.
“Relocating to Darwin and attending on campus was a great improvement to my university experience, fast-tracking my knowledge retention.”
Sekari made a point of getting involved and harnessing all the support services available to her, particularly as CDU offers support services specifically for First Nations students. After her role as Secretary of the First Nations of Australia Law Student Society was coming to a close, Sekari was made aware of the First Nations Officer role in the CDU Students’ Council.
“I was encouraged to put myself forward. I have that passion for advocating, for representing, especially when others may find it difficult to speak up for themselves.”
I advocate for CDU’s Indigenous cohort and represent them, being my priority, but my role's capacity isn’t limited to Indigenous students. All of the Students’ Council officers are open to be approached by all students within the university.
As for her law classes, Sekari finds all of the law units interesting and invigorating.
“I’m pretty fond of tax law!”
“CDU also offers courses specially created units in direct relation with the Yolŋu people and Elders of Arnhem Land, such as the Intercultural Mediation Intensive Workshop and Customary Law.”
Sekari offers three pieces of advice to future CDU law students.
Firstly, she highlights the benefits of networking with other professionals in your field of study, especially in a smaller community like Darwin.
“When there are events to network – fit it in your schedule and attend. Even if it’s just half an hour, your face will be remembered the next time you go. Most other professionals are proactive in engaging with students as they enjoy living vicariously through our experiences, often reminiscing and providing advice or perspective, which comes in handy.”
Secondly, offer up your time to volunteer.
“If you have the spare time, volunteering at law firms as a law student is a good way to get your foot in the door and pick up skills you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to inside university.”
Thirdly, take initiative in exposing yourself to the practical side of law down at court.
“Heading down to the local court and observing the court proceedings and how legal practitioners operate in court proceedings, is very beneficial. The earlier and more consistent you attend, the more beneficial it will be. Don’t delay until your final year to take the initiative.”
To First Nations students considering the pre-law program at CDU, Sekari couldn’t recommend it more.
“It is always better in the end to give it a go and expose yourself to trying something new, rather than always wondering what if,” she says.
The staff at CDU are supportive, don’t be afraid to stick your hand up and say you need help.
A more equal future
While Sekari continues to study she knows she’d like to continue to deliver advocacy for First Nations people experiencing the Australian legal system.
“From my time and experience at NAAJA, it can be difficult for clients attempting to have their story heard, when the listener has not experienced the challenges that the client is experiencing.”
To be able to offer a bridge for that connection is invaluable to First Nations people.
“To have First Nations peoples in the legal profession working with First Nations clients offers a stronger foundation of trust for clients while facing numerous challenges."