Using digital media to drive Indigenous storytelling: Interview with Yatu Widders Hunt
Digital media can be an ideal platform to grow communities, showcase talent, tell important stories and even drive social change.
Marketing speaks with Yatu Widders Hunt, the general manager of Cox Inall Ridgeway and founder and curator of Australian Indigenous Fashion. Together we discuss her incredible career and how brands can be better partners and collaborators with Indigenous organisations and communities.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career?
As a child I grew up in a very political household and always had a strong sense of social justice. When I started my career, I was drawn to communications and policy roles in government and actually moved to Canberra. I worked in public affairs across a range of issues, including sustainability, mental health and Indigenous Affairs before deciding to pursue a more creative path.
After freelancing in media and for a range of Indigenous organisations, I found my way to Cox Inall Ridgeway. We are an Indigenous social change agency and work across PR, research and community engagement, and I have happily been here for the past five years.
What inspires and motivates you?
I am inspired by creating social change and working with Indigenous communities to support and amplify community-led solutions to complex challenges. I am continually inspired by the resilience and innovation in our communities. It motivates me to keep doing the work I’m doing.
I’m also really inspired by creative collaborations and I’ve been really lucky to have worked with a number of brands, organisations and institutions that are passionate about partnering with Indigenous communities and businesses, to create real and meaningful impact.
You have created a thriving Instagram community elevating the work of Australian Indigenous Fashion – what inspired you to do this and why did you feel that social media was the right platform for your message?
I have always been a big fashion lover and when I worked in TV, I researched a lot of stories about Indigenous fashion designers. So many of them were showing in New York or working with Jimmy Choo and a whole range of other wonderful things. I was baffled as to why these stories weren’t getting broader attention.
A lot of people would ask me what ‘Indigenous fashion’ was or what it looked like, so I started the @ausindigenousfashion Instagram account as a way to build an understanding of the diversity and strength of the sector. It was also something that was fun for me to do as I got to discover new brands and artists every day.
I am a huge fan of Instagram and it’s a very visual platform so I thought it was the perfect fit. Indigenous Australians are also amongst the highest users of social media in Australia so that’s where I was also discovering all the talent!
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What have you learned about growing a community online?
I have learned that growing an online community is about building genuine trust and relationships. There are no quick and fast ways to do it and it happens organically over time.
I don’t usually boost posts or promote my page, because I’ve found the best way to grow the community is to deliver quality content and create a safe place for people to interact.
I also discovered how important it is to create a sense of fun and lightness. Inviting people to celebrate something with you is a great way to engage and grow an audience.
You use media and communications to tell stories of Indigenous Australians and inspire social change. What would you like to see more of from the mainstream media? What opportunities are being missed to have better and more inclusive conversations?
One thing I’d really love to see more of is Indigenous people having a voice on issues covered by mainstream media. Too often I think we see media commentary on Indigenous Affairs without much effort to embed Indigenous voices at the centre of reporting and debate. This has happened on a range of issues including out of home care, suicide prevention and the debate around January 26 to name a few. In the Indigenous PR work I do, we often talk about how in public debate, listening is just as important as driving the conversation.
“I think there are also opportunities to promote Indigenous excellence in more impactful ways. When we see Indigenous affairs discussed in mainstream media, it is often with a deficit lens, but I think we miss the stories of resilience and strength. There is so much happening around the country that I’d love to see on TV!
What role do you think that non-Indigenous brands and businesses could play in highlighting and supporting Indigenous people and causes?
I think building education, awareness and cultural capability are all critically important. As brands and businesses, it’s just as important to reflect on who you are as it is to think about what you’re going to say. Building a strong brand that is values-led, is a great way to become an impactful contributor. We’ve seen this over the past few years with the number of brands and businesses supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, for instance.
I think being a good partner and collaborator to and with Indigenous organisations and communities is also key. For too long Indigenous affairs has been the sidebar of core business and seen as simply corporate social responsibility or a charity initiative, but I think we have to place it at the heart of our brand personalities and our identities.
In the spirit of IWD, are there any women-led businesses/brands that you are excited about?
As I’m super passionate about fashion, there are an incredible number of Indigenous women who are running First Nations fashion labels who inspire and excite me. There are too many to list here, but I am a huge follower of MAARA Collective founded by Julie Shaw and Ngali founded by Denni Francisco.
There are a huge number of Indigenous models, artists, designers and stylists out there, who I believe will revolutionise the Australian fashion industry.
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What is the best advice that you have received during your career?
Coming from the Indigenous affairs sector, I think the best advice I’ve received is to always remember that community remains at the centre of everything we do.
This is really important to hold onto in the work we deliver, but it’s also important to continue to remind our clients and partners of this. Projects can sometimes get messy and complex and involve multiple stakeholders and interests – but reminding ourselves of who we are doing this with is really grounding and brings perspective back to our work.
2020 was a year of challenges and uncertainty. Looking toward the future, what are you most excited about for the next year and beyond?
I’m actually looking forward to further exploring the innovation our communities have shown during this difficult time and how this can be applied going forward. During COVID, there were communities in Arnhem Land streaming live concerts to the rest of Australia and we held the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Awards virtually.
I am excited to watch how digital innovation and connectivity can continue to drive Indigenous storytelling.