Youth Spotlight: Chenile Chandler

Chenile, wearing a white jacket and black top, standing in front of greenery and smiling.

I’m Chenile Chandler, a proud Wurundjeri woman of the Kulin Nations living in Healesville. Culture is a big part of my life and it’s important for me to share and connect with culture through the work I do, from sharing our language through song or supporting the rights of Indigenous communities.

Singing in the Woiwurrung language began for me because my grandmother Aunty Joy Murphy, who has been working in Aboriginal and Indigenous Affairs for as long as I can remember, was always practising and working to keep Woiwurrung language alive and well-spoken. It was lucky that I had a singing voice she could use to showcase that. I remember, at around the age of eight, I had my first performance at the Dream Time at the G footy match and it was through Aunty Joy's encouragement that I have now been able to understand the importance of keeping my language alive. Since then, we have continued to translate songs into language and I find it so cool that people can connect to culture through my work.

"I take pride in practising my culture because we were not always able to speak our language."

It is something I love and take great privilege in. It is through being proud of my heritage and who I am as a Wurundjeri woman of the Kulin Nations, that I have had many opportunities that I am so fortunate for.

My most recent performance, where I sang 'I Am Woman' at the Australian Open Women's Final, was easily my biggest and most exciting opportunity, not only because I was there to recognise women's history in sport, but also because I was able to pay tribute to Helen Reddy as well. It was an incredible moment to have Debra Byrne and Angie Hart, two absolute legends of Australian music, alongside me, singing our language altogether.

"I definitely feel so lucky to do what I do and meet incredible people but it always comes down to what you are doing it for. For me, it's about showcasing culture, whether it is at a footy match or at the Australian Open."

I was also awarded the Young Citizen of the Year Award in 2016 for my contributions to the community, as well as my expression of how proud I am to be a Wurundjeri woman. I now continue this through my work at the Australian Bureau of Statistics where I help Indigenous Australians to participate and identify in the census. This is important to me because there are misconceptions in the Indigenous community about where their data is being held. My work is really about reassuring our communities that their information will help allocate funding to services that will benefit them. I am passionate about making sure we can all live the best life we possibly can.

For non-Indigenous people, there is a responsibility to learn, connect, and reconcile. It takes work on both sides to ensure that there is respect for each other but I see things going in a positive direction by celebrating our culture through NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week. However, we still have a long way to go.

Culture, particularly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, is a big thing, and when that connection to culture and land is missing, it has a direct impact on our lives.