War cry important for NRL to share Indigenous culture with youth: Dean Widders
Dean Widders believes rugby league should never underestimate its influence among indigenous Australians and the importance of initiatives like the pre-game war cry can have on shaping the younger generations.
The former back-rower, who is the NRL Indigenous Pathways manager, is proud of the way the sport has been proactive in sharing Indigenous culture and spreading the messages to the younger generation.
As part of the NRL's School to Work program, the community team and facilitators from the Aurora Foundation brought students from the Western Sydney region to Rugby League Central on Tuesday to take part in workshops focusing on what it takes to be a leader within their families and communities.
The students took part in an NRL Voice Against Violence session led by former Kiwis international Clinton Toopi, which provided them with space to discuss and learn about the impacts of domestic violence, before Widders led an Indigenous War Cry workshop.
The former Parramatta Eels, South Sydney Rabbitohs and Sydney Roosters forward said the cultural workshop he ran was designed to help the students understand the origins of the War Cry.
"It's a very influential game rugby league in the Aboriginal communities," Widders said.
"I'm proud as someone who works in the game and played the game that we do that - we do step forward when we're called upon, we take a stance and lead the way.
"Today was all about teaching these young kids the values and the symbols behind the formations of the Indigenous War Cry and the meaning behind the dance, what it represents to all of our people, and how it brings people together.
"Showcasing leadership, confidence, pride, focus and strength for our young people to take notice of so that they can use that in their life everyday lives."
He acknowledged that the War Cry as much more than just a dance.
"This country obviously struggles with culture identity and it's because we got off to such a bad start 200 years ago when those ships landed," Widders said.
"This dancing is around helping people moving forward from that, recognising the past, paying respects to it, but also moving together as one and recognising the importance that the full history of this country and the truth telling."
Widders highlighted the 2017 Indigenous All Stars War Cry as one of the key messages the players hoped would resonate with the younger generation through their actions.
"The players wanted to come up with their own war cry that they could really connect with and give some powerful meaning behind," Widders said.
"Send a positive message to our younger kids about all the problems and issues that young Aboriginal people face and how they can overcome them by showing strength, courage, pride, walking forward together and standing up to the plate, when opportunity comes as a leader.
"Hopefully it lights a fuse deep inside them and they can connect to it through their culture, be proud of who they are, and be able to go out there and showcase the best of our communities to the wider community."
Muggera Dance Company joined the Indigenous All Stars on the field for the War Cry, in which School to Work participant Dion Compton was a member.
Attending the leadership day at NRL headquarters, the 19-year-old recalled the experience of dancing at the festival with his brother's company at a jam-packed McDonald Jones Stadium as a memory he would never forget.
"The experience of dancing at Indigenous All Stars with so many people watching was a once in a lifetime experience, especially doing it for your culture and for your people," Compton said.
"Seeing all your mob there watching you, you feel so much pressure but it's also recognition for what our family has done for us to be where we are today."
A proud moment he felt he not only shared with the people present but one he shared with his ancestors as well.
"You could sense that it wasn't just the people that were present that were watching us but our people that have passed - all our ancestors were there when we were stomping our feet to the Mother Earth as you could feel that energy rising up," Compton said.