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“Our Voices Matter”: George Coles on First Nations and Outreach at AFTRS

George Coles, Wonnarua storyteller, recent graduate and First Nations Community Engagement Manager at AFTRS, told us all about the School’s First Nations and Outreach department, and what it’s like to be a First Nations student at AFTRS.

AFTRS: How do the First Nations students come together to meet and connect?

GEORGE COLES: First Nations values are at the core of everything we do, but one of the biggest support systems we have in the Indigenous Community is each other. Yarning Circle is a First Nations support group led by the First Nations and Outreach team. We run semi-regular meet-ups and activities that aim at bringing the First Nations students and staff together to help maintain our cultural wellbeing.

AFTRS: What about for the student’s studies?

GC: We have a variety of resources available that we use to support our First Nations students. Through the mentoring sessions we offer, we can provide students with the opportunity to connect with industry professionals to help develop their skills in their desired fields. Most recently we were able to help BA students connect and learn from writers, directors and even storyboard artists to develop their grad projects.

AFTRS: What financial assistance is available for First Nations students?

GC: We provide financial assistance to our students with our First Nations Scholarships. In the Bachelor of Arts, students can be granted up to $7000 through either equity or artistic merit-based scholarships. For the Master of Arts Screen courses, we have some more First Nations Scholarships, including our Netflix Scholarship, which are intended to assist with the full cost of course fees and contribute towards living expenses.

AFTRS: How does AFTRS ensure the curriculum is culturally appropriate for First Nations people?

GC: At AFTRS, the curriculum is always changing to fit the industry better, but First Nations and POC values will always be at the forefront of everything we develop to ensure our student’s education is culturally appropriate. Our voices matter, and it’s important when working with First Nations content, that students develop an understanding of the protocols that are involved in this. We ensure all AFTRS students have access to our team should they need assistance with finding information regarding Indigenous Protocols or content.

AFTRS: You studied the BA at AFTRS too, right?

GC: Yeah, I graduated in 2020.

AFTRS: What’s one of your favourite memories of the BA?

GC: It would be one of my final projects; during my third year I was working on a proof of concept, and there was a scene between an Aunty and her niece. There was no dialogue, there was nothing special about the scene, just two women sitting and having tea together; but the silence was weighted.

AFTRS: So, a ‘what’s said between the lines’ kind of moment?

GC: Exactly! The way it translated to the screen was so perfect. It was one of those days where something simple inspired me to keep going, and make sure other Indigenous people could tell their stories like I had.

AFTRS: What’s something you would like to say to other First Nations people thinking of studying at AFTRS?

GC: AFTRS understands that the voices coming out of Indigenous communities should be our own. AFTRS will always strive to provide the support we need as First Nations storytellers, and we are developing new ways to do that. We are always listening to how we can support our students better and are working on pathways – not just into industry, but back to community as well.