A proud Gija woman from Warmun Community in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia, Kia Dowell works from a space which incorporates her Gija (Aboriginal) ancestry and migrant heritage to form a singular focus on outcomes which reflect the aspirations and hard work being collectively undertaken by First Nations peoples.
Kia’s traditional Aboriginal name is Wadjbarreyal and her skin name is Nangala. Growing up on country, with a loving extended family, grounded Kia in her understanding of the importance of female leadership and opened her eyes to the restraints and disadvantage placed on communities by colonial structures. From a childhood embedded in community life including participation through law and culture, to an early independence as she completed her education, Kia has prioritized her connection to culture to guide her choices, both personally and professionally.
Kia’s academic prowess and inherent skill as a basketballer lead to a scholarship to the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), where she stayed for six years until the completion of her MBA. Throughout her time away, Kia’s connection to family underpinned her desire to make a difference back home. She returned to Australia to a graduate position with Rio Tinto where she began her career, learning much about the machinations and stakeholders involved in community and regional development and utilization of First Nations land with one of the world’s largest mining giants.
In 2017, Kia joined the board of Gelganyem Limited, the entity established to progress the commitments made within Rio Tinto’s Argyle Participation Agreement. As Chair, Kia guides and works with the Gelganyem board to hold multiple stakeholders accountable for the benefit of Traditional Owners whilst delivering programs that respond to the social, cultural, economic and caring for country needs they’ve identified. The closure of the Argyle Diamond Mine and the work of Traditional Owners particularly in the past 5 years requires a significant shift in the mindset of Rio Tinto ensuring that a proper and sustainable transition to relinquishment and beyond of the Argyle Diamond Mine. Kia hopes this will serve as a workable model for similar projects across the country.
With her daughters and family as her guiding lights, Kia continues to work for the change she believes in, by using her considerable experience and unique perspective to challenge accepted beliefs and practices, bring commercial acumen to long-standing problems and harness the power of community and collective learning. Kia’s strong family, work, community and leadership ethic has fostered opportunities in advisory and executive roles and she has shared her knowledge of the power of business, cultural identity, resilience and female leadership with audiences here and across the world.