A new partnership between Juvenile Justice and the Australian Museum is helping young people from Pacific communities build self-esteem by reconnecting with culturally significant artefacts.

The Cultural Collections and Community Engagement unit at the Australian Museum has established a working partnership with the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice, Fairfield Office, so that ‘at risk’ youth from Pacific communities can interact and reconnect with culturally significant artefacts.

The Museum holds one of the largest and most significant collections of Pacific material in the world, comprising around sixty thousand objects. The collection is of immense historical and cultural value to Pacific diaspora and creator communities, as well as to Australian and international audiences more broadly.

The aim of the program is to build cultural awareness among ‘at risk’ youths from Pacific communities and to challenge beliefs and perceptions that being a ‘warrior’ is synonymous with being violent. It uses creativity and imagination to build the self-esteem of teenagers and motivate them to participate in programs to develop their skills.

The first group visited the Museum in June 2009. Dion Pieta, the Museum’s Cultural Collections Coordinator, introduced the participants to artefacts from Tonga, Samoa, the Cook Islands, New Zealand, Fiji and Niue.

‘What is important in the lives of young Pacific men is being able to relate to and be recognised by their peers and community’, Dion said.

’Sadly, a lack of cultural identity and the pressures of modernity can catch up with these young men and in some cases violence is the result.

‘I think the Museum’s role in facilitating access to the collections is a positive step towards addressing a need.

‘We discussed the importance of cultural identity, historical heroes from respective Island nations, and even artistic opportunities for some of the youth’, Dion said.

‘It provides these young men with a sense of pride and dignity when the history of the objects is explained to them and their relationship to these powerful objects is revealed. Providing positive role models working in museum activities is also beneficial.’

Five groups have now visited the Museum and more are scheduled for July and August 2010.

‘The physical interaction with the collections has proved to be very powerful’, Dion said.

His views were supported by Sarah Abusharif, Manager of the Fairfield Office of Juvenile Justice. ‘The encounter has prompted greater participation and positive behaviour among the youth who experience the collections’, Sarah said.

The Australian Museum’s partnership with Juvenile Justice is an innovative way of supporting young ‘at risk’ people to retain their traditional culture and help them flourish.