THE next generation of Aboriginal leaders graduated from the Gomeroi Cultural Academy on Friday, after an intense 12-month program.
Director Marc Sutherland the academy's goal was to inspire "culturally strong leaders in our community.".
"It's unique in the sense that it's focused on a small group of people, and we invest a lot of time and energy in to them," Mr Sutherland said.
The eight students, who ranged from Year 9 to Year 11, had weekly one-on-one weekly sessions with local culture mentors.
Mr Sutherland and the other cultural mentors were bursting with pride as they watched the students acheive the goals they had set throughout the year.
"One of the boys wanted to learn more around the role the didgeridoo played in culture," Mr Sutherland said.
"He set the goal of how to identify the right tree, how to cut it and how to make a didgeridoo from start to finish. Not only that, he learnt how to play it confidently."
Another student wanted to learn some Aboriginal songs and then he created his own, which he performed at the graduation alongside students who had learnt traditional dance.
Another female student studied bush medicine, learning how to identify different plants, how to source them and make a range of things, such as soaps, candles and drinks.
"These are skills that can be passed down," Mr Sutherland said.
"They also spend a lot of time out on country, visiting sites and communities across northern NSW.
"This year they travelled around 2000 kilometres, including towns like Moree, Narrabri. Walgett and Coonamble."
Enriching the student's cultural identity has had a flow on effect to other aspects of their lives.
"We've seen some amazing results in personal growth, self awareness, a stronger sense of belonging and growth in confidence," Mr Sutherland said.
"There have been huge individual achievements. Majority have moved in to part-time employment, achieved excellence at school and those who are old enough have got their licence.
"We want to set a strong foundation for them and whatever pathway they take, that strong foundation is there for them to build on and fall back on."
This is the second lot of graduates to pass through the Gomeroi Culture Academy, after it was started in 2018. As the academy enters its third year in 2020, it will specifically target Year 9 students.
"We had a record number of applications for next year," Mr Sutherland said.
"So we had to grow the class size from 10 students to 15, because it was too hard to cull."