Felecia Watkin Lui

Felecia Watkin Lui

Felecia 'very happy and proud' over PhD award

Dr Felecia Watkin Lui is a very happy and proud Torres Strait Islander woman after graduating with a Doctor of Philosophy Award from James Cook University University.

Family travelled from across the country to help celebrate Dr Watkin Lui’s academic achievement as the first Torres Strait Islander PhD recipient from James Cook University’s Cairns Campus.

Dr Watkin Lui is Director of Research Training, School of Indigenous Australian Studies at JCU.

Felecia’s grandparents, on her mother’s side were Leah Canuto (nee Ahmat), from Mabuiag Island, and Philemeno Canuto, from Thursday Island. Her dad’s mother, Felecia Watkin (nee Pitt), was born and raised on Erub. Dr Watkin Lui lives in Cairns with husband Gary Lui (family from Erub) and their two boys, Malu (aged seven) and Karem (aged two). Her very proud parents, Pat and Eddie Watkin, also live in Cairns.

Dr Watkin Lui’s PhD is the first study of identity across different generations of Islanders living outside the Torres Strait (‘Mainlanders’).

Dr Watkin Lui, whose niece Laila Thaker, and cousin brother Rick Hodges, also graduated on the same day with a Diploma of Creative Industries and Bachelor of Commerce respectively said: “I encourage other Indigenous Australians, particularly Torres Strait Islanders, to pursue tertiary education as a way of furthering our cultural, social and political aspirations as individuals and as a people.”

The study involved people who were born in the Torres Strait and moved to the mainland; the children of these families; and younger-generation Islanders who were born and raised on the mainland and never been to the Torres Strait.

Dr Watkin Lui spoke about her studies saying that “as a second-generation ‘Mainlander’ myself”. “I was interested in looking at how other Islanders stayed connected with their ancestral islands, and how they practised and adapted cultural traditions outside the Torres Strait.”

Her study found that Island people, living and growing up on the mainland, retained strong connections with their Island homes through family and kinship ties. “People felt strong connections with the Torres Strait through their ties with grandparents, uncles, aunties, cousins, and other relatives who still live up there, giving them a strong sense of belonging to their ancestral homes.

“People were also linked through cultural events on the mainland including Tombstone Openings and Coming of the Light celebrations.” Dr Watkin Lui’s study also found that ‘Mainland Islanders’ were using the arts, multimedia and technology to represent their cultural identity in many different ways.

“Cultural identity is not lost or displaced, even when people live away from the Torres Strait,” Dr Watkin Lui concluded. “Social networking online through Facebook and group email and websites, has ensured that Torres Strait Islanders are linking up from across the Torres Strait, the mainland and even overseas”. Dr Watkin Lui further explained, “With more than 85% of the total Torres Strait population now living outside the Torres Strait, it is important that governments re-think how policy and legislation addresses our social and political needs and aspirations so our people, whether residing in the islands or on the mainland, can be strengthened as a whole.”

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