Bobbie Bigby’s Inspiring Notre Dame Journey

Oklahoma resident and Cherokee Nation member, Bobbie Bigby, embarked on an inspiring journey that showcased resilience, a deep connection with the Australian Indigenous community, and the value of international connections.

In 2014, she left Oklahoma to pursue a master’s degree in Australia under the Rotary Peace Fellowship program, ultimately achieving her dream of graduating with a PhD from the University of Notre Dame in August 2023.

Driven by a deep desire to connect with Indigenous Australia and make a meaningful impact in regional and remote communities, Bobbie actively sought internships and opportunities aligned with her passion. Fate intervened, leading her to the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Center (KALACC) and its coordinator based in Brisbane.

Little did Bobbie know that this chance connection would reshape her life’s trajectory. “I was offered a unique opportunity: to return to Broome, a place I knew nothing about, after completing my master’s degree, with the promise of accommodation and support from KALACC and Notre Dame,” Bobbie said.

Arriving in Broome, Bobbie quickly developed a deep connection with the Kimberley region and its people. Her initial plans to stay for a month turned into a transformative journey of discovery, collaboration, and cultural immersion. “When people talk about the Broome campus being a campus of reconciliation, they really mean it,” she said.

“Being able to say, ‘I go to a university in the Kimberley region, which is the most remote region of Australia,’ that for me was a source of pride.”

Just two weeks into her stay, Bobbie experienced a health scare. Initially reluctant to seek medical attention, she was encouraged by a local Aboriginal elder to see a doctor. The diagnosis was devastating: cancer. Urgent treatment was required, and Bobbie had to leave Australia abruptly to undergo medical care.

Despite the physical and emotional challenges she faced during three years of cancer treatment, Bobbie continued to nurture her connections with Notre Dame and the Kimberley community. “The unwavering support of friends and mentors sustained my spirit through these difficult times,” she said.

In 2018, Bobbie seized the opportunity to return to Australia and pursue a Ph.D., marking a heartwarming homecoming.

Bobbie’s academic pursuit centered on Indigenous-led tourism models, with a particular focus on the Kimberley region in Australia and her homeland in Oklahoma. Her research delved deep into the intricate relationship between Indigenous-led tourism and the concept of resurgence—connecting Indigenous communities to culture, community, and country.

Bobbie’s work in the Kimberley served as a bridge that connected the two seemingly distant worlds of the Oklahoma plains and the great red desert of northern WA. While the cultural contexts and landscapes differed, at their heart, the core cultural values aligned with resurgence remained consistent. The importance and healing power of storytelling transcended borders, whether on Yawaru Country in Australia or Cherokee Lands in Oklahoma.

One of Bobbie’s favourite memories from her time in Broome encapsulates the profound experiences she had during her journey. It takes her back to her early days in the region when she was a tourist herself, exploring traditional lands with local traditional owners.

During one of her trips with a local traditional owner, Bobbie had the privilege of visiting the coastal area around Broome to see dinosaur tracks that emerge when the tide goes out. What made this experience extraordinary was the traditional owner’s perspective—she explained that these “dinosaurs” were not just creatures from the past but ancestral beings for her people.

This memory, among many others, deepened Bobbie’s connection to the Kimberley and solidified her commitment to returning to the region.

Bobbie’s hope for her research is clear—she aims to contribute to a growing discussion around Indigenous-led tourism and its potential to bridge cultural divides. In a world where COVID-19 has caused disruptions, she believes that tourism remains a vital vehicle for fostering understanding and embracing Indigenous histories and cultures.

Bobbie’s work is not only groundbreaking but also pioneering, and her future endeavours hold the promise of further strengthening Indigenous-led initiatives and promoting cross-cultural understanding.

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