18-year-old Dylan Burns says it was a nervous feeling arriving at Korin Gamadji Insitute (KGI) for his first Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leaders (REAL) Program almost three years ago.

“I was sixteen and I wasn’t actually supposed to come,” Burns recalls.

“They needed a couple of extra participants and my older sister said to come along, which I did. And now I keep coming back.

“It was pretty overwhelming at first, meeting so many different people and being at the Richmond Football Cub.

“I had to come out of my comfort zone a bit and by the second or third day I was right into it. The activities seem to bring out the best in you.”

Reflecting on the highlights of his time at the KGI, Burns remembers being inspired by a session run by one of his football heroes, Richmond midfielder Dustin Martin.

“On my first program we had Dusty come and speak to us about leadership. I was just sitting at the back of the room, big smile on my face, listening to every word he said.”

“He said to us ‘you are your own person’ and that’s something that really stuck with me.

This year, Burns returns to the KGI as a peer leader.

“When they were looking for peer leaders, I thought I would give it a go,” he said.

“I really liked it and I said if you ever need help again I would like to come back.”

The July REAL program was run throughout NAIDOC week, a week dedicated to celebrating the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but by Australians from all walks of life.

“We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate” was the theme of this year’s NAIDOC and highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land and sea.

Burns says he enjoyed being able to spend the week celebrating with other young Indigenous people.

“It’s about celebrating connection to land and culture. I was going to go out bush for the week. At home we have a massive festival and stuff. But it was great to be at KGI.”

Since leaving high school, Burns says he has focused on playing football and studying Civil Engineering. However, he says his role as a peer leader has left him considering working with youth in his hometown of Mildura.

The REAL Program is supported by the Victorian Electoral Commission.