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7 – 14 July 2024
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Lala Gutchen

National NAIDOC Caring for Country and Culture Award Category
Lala Gutchen

Lala Gutchen is a proud Meuram woman from Erub Island in the Torres Strait who has worked tirelessly to protect and preserve her Country and Culture for future generations. An outstanding youth leader and bearer of cultural knowledge, Lala is dedicated to protecting her homelands and culture across the Torres Strait. As well as being a cultural knowledge holder, Lala is also a fisherwoman, a composer, a mother, a community organiser, working to become a certified linguist, and a strong advocate for the cultural rights of her people and families.  

For the past three years, Lala has worked with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation on the Erub Mer language project. Working closely with her father, Kapua Gutchen, an Erub Mer mentor and language holder, they recorded over 2000+ unrecorded words in Erub Mer. As part of her work in language preservation and education, Lala has co-authored a series of journal articles for the Foundation of Endangered Languages. In 2019 Lala was also named a Young Champion by First Languages Australia. Lala has provided mentoring as a Community Educator through Living Languages and has participated in research discovery workshops with the Queensland State Library. 

Lala has worked with tech giants like Google and Apple to create the Erub Mer literacy app, in order to preserve languages for the future generations. She also recently oversaw the development of an early literacy game (app) in Erub Mer language. Lala’s goal is to see young people excited to explore their language and culture.  To reach this goal Lala works tirelessly to preserve the language for future generations. Lala also represented the Torres Strait nationally at the recent Warra: Indigenous Language Youth Forum in Adelaide. Lala works with Erub community members and peers to compose new language songs and reteach old language songs in Erub Mer. Through her work as a fisherwoman and traditional gardener, Lala works on land and sea, demonstrating her exemplary strength, dedication, and her passion for preserving cultures and protecting the land.  

Lala has also been a key cultural witness in a historic Queensland Land Court case, where she provided evidence for her people about the impact that the Waratah Coal’s Galilee Coal Project would have on the Torres Strait including on the islands of Erub, Poruma and Merad which are threatened by rising sea levels due to climate change. This was the first time the Queensland Land Court had travelled to listen to evidence on-Country from Traditional Owners and Lala hosted the court lawyers in her home, cooked for them and facilitated communication between the Land Court and community. The Land Court later ruled that the planned coal mine would infringe upon the rights of Torres Strait Islanders and that it would significantly contribute to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions after the landmark on-Country visit.  

Lala is a role model, leader and facilitator who represents her family, community and people. Every day she faces the difficult task of standing up for her Country and is dedicated to passing on the cultural knowledge of her Elders and ancestors to her daughter and future generations. Lala is a widely respected leader in her community for her commitment to caring for Country and language to keep culture strong.

Welcome to NAIDOC.

We acknowledge all First Peoples of the beautiful lands on which we live and celebrate their enduring knowledge and connections to Country. We honour the wisdom of and pay respect to Elders past and present.