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The Newcastle Knights have announced a landmark initiative to launch a week of Indigenous sporting and cultural celebrations.
The Knights have embraced the upcoming Close the Gap Round and taken Indigenous relations to a new level, unveiling the jersey Newcastle will wear against the Melbourne Storm at EnergyAustralia Stadium on Monday 17 August, 2009.
The jersey will be the centre piece of a week of celebrations, recognising the outstanding contribution Indigenous role models have made to the Knights, Rugby League and Newcastle and the Hunter Valley region – using a national rugby league stage as the vehicle to raise awareness of Indigenous health issues.
Knights CEO, Steve Burraston said the response from the Newcastle and Hunter Valley Indigenous Communities has been overwhelming but more importantly, the Newcastle Knights have an important opportunity to use their national profile to raise awareness of Indigenous health issues.
“This is a major initiative and we’re extremely proud that we have received the endorsement of the land councils in our region,” he said.
“It’s our way of recognising and thanking our Indigenous communities for the significant contributions they have made to our region and to our club, and hopefully it will assist in raising awareness of important issues as well.”
“It’s a genuine joint venture with our Indigenous Community and takes Indigenous relations to a new level.
“We are serious about our culture and leading the Community for the better and this is another step in that direction.”
Through the club’s work with naming rights sponsor, Coal & Allied, NAIDOC Artist of the Year, Les
Elvin was engaged to design a jersey with a story relevant to the Knights and the region’s Indigenous Communities.
Titled “Celebrating NAIDOC”, Mr Elvin explained its story at today’s announcement to sponsors, media and representatives from the Land Councils throughout Newcastle and the Hunter.
“We celebrate our achievements through art and dance and this is a story about the people of our region coming together to celebrate NAIDOC achievements,” Mr Elvin said.
“The story represents our people embarking on a journey. All landmarks of our region are illustrated including the Hunter Valley, the Hunter River, and the beach and Indigenous people travelling to Newcastle for this historical occasion.
“The centrepiece stands for the 13 Knights on the field representing NAIDOC and the people gathering to support the Knights as they go into battle.
“For NAIDOC, we celebrate our achievements over the last 12 months and the Knights are helping us celebrate those achievements. “
A former Cessnock Goanna, Mr Elvin says he was delighted to be approached by the Newcastle Knights to design the jersey that will be worn on a national stage.
“I’m a Knights supporter from way back and played locally here in Cessnock so it means a lot to me to have the opportunity to showcase my work on the Knights jersey.”
“This is such an important occasion for Indigenous relations and I congratulate the Knights for their commitment to our people”, he said.
“I believe this has the potential to change the way many national sporting organisations approach Indigenous relations from an awareness perspective and we will be extending our commitment well beyond this year’s Close the Gap round,” Mr Burraston said.
“The important thing from here is the follow up and our community alliance programmes allow us to walk the talk.”
“There is no point having such a big celebration of all things Indigenous and dropping the ball the following week. We have approached this with a lot of caution and advice from local land councils to ensure we are doing everything correctly. Now we need to push ahead and use this opportunity to make a difference.”
1997 Premiership winning player, Brett Grogan has been involved in the organisation of the Knights Close the Gap celebrations from the initial stages. He says he never thought he would see the day a national sporting organisation would dedicate its jersey and profile to raise awareness of Indigenous issues.
“The Knights have said from the start this is not just some token gesture,” Grogan said.
“When we saw the jersey we realised this is huge. This is the start of something big and the Knights are to be commended for taking their commitment to a level we’ve never seen before in Australian or International sport.
“We’ve already spoken about establishing an Indigenous working committee to initiate mentoring and development programs for Koori youths so we look forward to progressing with those initiatives.
“It makes me proud to be a Knights Old Boy.”
The Close the Gap week will begin with a family fun day showcasing Indigenous culture on Tuesday 11 August.
On Friday 14 August a gala evening will be held at Wests New Lambton, centred on raising awareness of Indigenous health issues and closing the gap between life expectancy of Indigenous and non Indigenous Australians.
The dinner will also feature Indigenous Knights Old Boys and the outstanding contribution made to the football club and sport in the region.
The climax of the week, match day between the Newcastle Knights and the Melbourne Storm on Monday 17 August, will feature a line up of Indigenous performers and high achievers before the Knights go into battle proudly displaying the jersey that has been so openly endorsed by the Indigenous Community.