This Reconciliation Week, Mariela Powell Thomas has written a powerful reflection about the horrific reality of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and Anne Annear leads us in prayer.

Reconciliation as Truth and Action

Stolen Lives- Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Mariela Powell Thomas is a graduate of communications and innovation, living and working on Gadigal land. She is passionate about affecting change through building authentic connection and sharing life with people. Fighting to dismantle systems of injustice through her personal and professional work, she is part of Common Grace's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice team.

Dwelling on Deaths in Custody

I wasn’t even born when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was released in 1991. I am 22 years old now, and still almost all of the 339 recommendations made by the report are yet to be implemented. Still Aboriginal peoples are being murdered in police custody whilst no one is held to account. As a non-Aboriginal person, living on stolen lands that ache with the ongoing injustice against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, these 28 years of inaction are appalling.

There are countless statistics you can find, accounts you can read, footage you can watch, and it’s all the same: absolutely heartbreaking. The impact that systemic racism and institutional brutality has on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this land is devastating, and I can hear it breaking Jesus’ heart.

Earlier this month, I attended a panel on NSW Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Speaking were Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay Jr. who died in police custody just after Christmas in 2015, and Nioka Chatfield, mother of 22-year-old Tane Chatfield who died in NSW police custody in September of 2017. It was confronting - the grief, the truth, the reality. Both mothers fought against false narratives presented in official police and coroners’ reports - of suicide, of no suspicious activity, of reasonable justification. False narratives perpetuated by Australia’s (in)justice system in the cases of the more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in police custody since the Royal Commission’s recommendations were released.

Listening to these two mothers recount the stories of their boys was painful. Dwelling in the telling of these difficult, difficult truths was painful. I can only imagine the pain these women; their families; their communities continue to face, as they engage in truth-telling while still grieving. The rawness of these wounds is still fresh and throbbing, and the act of truth-telling requires them to remain so - to remain open and exposed and hurting. To witness the flow of grief from Australia’s (in)justice system into Aboriginal communities is to realise there is still a long, long way to go. To realise that this is another source of transgenerational trauma in First Nations communities that hasn’t ended despite there being the resources to do so.

It’s a journey toward Conciliation that cannot be undertaken lightly. For me and other Non-Aboriginal folk, and specifically non-Aboriginal Christian folk, this is a task that requires the deepest of listening and the most humble of re-learning. It is a matter of racism against the First Nations Peoples of this continent, it is a matter of institutional power and brutality. To work towards Reconciliation we have to listen to the truths that are being told - and have been told since that first day of invasion. We have to commit ourselves to learning and un-learning, to having our hearts humbled by these truths, to giving up and redistributing the power of the non-Aboriginal church, and we must face the conviction that comes with Christ and the cross: to seek His justice come.

Nioka Chatfield said she wanted to “be the last mother to lose a child to a death in custody”. Sadly she is not. Nioka Chatfield and Leetona Dungay remain tellers of truth and fighters for justice, just as the other families and communities who have lost loved ones in a broken system. Their stories inspire us to truly understand what it means to be grounded in truth and to walk together in courage. It is beyond time for us, non-Aboriginal Christians, to finally humble ourselves to hear the truth, be inspired by Aboriginal peoples courage, and join the fight - then we can truly say we are walking together.


by Anne Annear

Anne Annear is part of the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee and a member of the Perth Anglican Diocesan Aboriginal Ministry Working Group. She is a passionate advocate committed to amplifying First Nations voices and seeking justice. Anne feels deeply indebted to the First Nations people she has met and made friendships with over the years and gives thanks for the growing awareness and desire to know the true history of Australia through Aboriginal eyes recognising there is still a lot to learn!


Holy God of the Dreaming and Father of us all, You gave Christ, your Son, to live amongst us, teaching the true meaning of your Justice and Reconciling Love. He was nailed to the Cross and faced the desolation of darkness and death.

We remember today, all our First Nations sisters and brothers who have suffered the desolation of darkness and death in car chases, police lock-ups and prisons, leaving grieving families in the shadow of death – all of them your beloved children.

We pray that, through Christ’s Resurrection and promise of eternal life, all those who have suffered through denial of Your Justice may now live in the glorious light and love of your presence, and that their families may know Your consolation and compassion.

And we ask that You will guide with wisdom and insight all who work in the Justice system and those who work to bring about change.

God of Holy Dreaming, we offer our prayer to You, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.


Truth in Action 

Truth starts with knowledge. What would Australia look like, sound like, act like if every person living in these lands and waters understood what “Australia” looked like before colonisation and if we had a shared understanding of the true history of 1788? What would the Australian church look like, sound like, act like, if every Christian knew about God’s appointed custodians and God’s appointed boundaries and viewed colonisation through the Creator’s eyes - the shooting and disregard of peoples made in His image, the destruction of the environment, the commencement of deforestation in Australia.

Will you take action to see how we could change the view of Australia and Australian Christians?


Write a letter to the Minister for Corrections and State Police. We have drafted a template letter that you can find here.




This post is part of our National Reconciliation Week 2019 series where we are together discovering Reconciliation as Truth and Action.  

Reconciliation Week 2019