This morning, Wednesday 28 September 2016 I woke up the same as I do every day, praying for our country, the state of our nation, the healing for our land. I also woke up screaming 'Enough is enough!'. Sometimes 'enough is enough' are the only words I can find.
Today an Aboriginal family in WA awaits a decision from the State Coroner as to whether CCTV footage will be released to the public – footage of their daughter being treated inhumanely by a state system. Today an Aboriginal family in SA grieves the loss of a beloved brother, a son, who on his first time in custody, ended up losing his life after treatment he received by a state system. Today a community in WA will continue to fight for justice for a 14 year old boy who was murdered. Today Aboriginal peoples in every State and Territory think of the stories, the lives, the beloved family members who continue to suffer, who continue to die, in this country, in this nation, in Australia.
On Monday I found myself, after the loss of my cousin sista’s brother in SA, saying, “Another Aboriginal death in custody”. Had I become desensitised? I found myself wanting justice before I had time to grieve. My cousin sista wrote these words:
“We said goodbye to my brother early this morning…I walked from the hospital to the steps of parliament and just sat there all morning till the sun came up…I thought that maybe I had the courage to stay until Jay Weatherill came out and I could ask for justice…but I just ended up breaking down..I can’t be strong. I am broken. We are broken.”
Broken. I wanted to put my cousin sista back together. She is a strong warrior sista. A young Aboriginal leader with a significant voice for this country. A fighter for truth and justice. She is my sista, my friend, a fellow leader. I wanted to put her brother back together. His broken, bruised, and battered body. A loving brother, family man, a talented artist. I wanted to put myself back together from the tiredness, the tears, the fight. I wanted to put my country back together.
The problem is that whilst as Aboriginal peoples we sometimes become desensitised to the trauma and grief of living in Australia, non-Aboriginal peoples are only, just now, in 2016, seeming to wake up to these injustices. Where Australian mainstream media is happy to point the finger at the US and discuss the #BlackLivesMatter events, they forget to look in our own backyard where here in Australia #BlackLivesMatter as well. Where in America with the tragic and fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte, police finally released footage after a week of pressure. Here in Australia, Ms Dhu’s family have been waiting for more than two years for footage to be released – will today be the day?
You see our country, our nation, our Australia is broken. I don’t know how many times I need to say this, and I have said it many times. It is the systems, the attitudes, the peoples that are broken.
Today, Zianna Oliphant, a 9 year old addressed the Charlotte City Council in the US, with these words:
“I feel like we are treated differently to other people. We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this. We shouldn’t have to protest coz ya’ll are treating us wrong. We do this because we need to and (we) have rights.”
“We have tears and we shouldn’t have tears.”
The words could have just as easily come from my 7 year old Aboriginal niece in this country. Words that would be an appeal to treat peoples from the world’s oldest living culture with human dignity. Words that are as relevant in 2016 as they were in 1788, 1939, 1967 and every year in between.
As Aboriginal peoples we can’t fix the brokenness on our own. We’ve been trying for over 200 years. We’ve been asking for truth, screaming for justice, crying for love. We’ve been screaming for people to listen to us. Those people we’ve been screaming to people like the State, Territory, and Federal governments, people like the Heads of Churches, but mostly people like you. Ordinary, every day Australians. In July, I thought we had all woken up after #DonDale. But then many Australians seemed to go back to sleep. What I realised is that we woke up as a nation to the horrors, the injustices, the fact we are broken. What I also realised is that we hadn’t woken up to the fact that we had to fix the brokenness. Together. As Aboriginal peoples we can’t do this on our own.
I said to my cousin sista that while she grieves I would fight for justice. Will you come and fight with me?
I said earlier that I wanted to put my country back together. Did I really want to put my country back together? What state did I want to restore my country to? The answer is there isn’t a state to restore it to. We have been broken a long, long, long time. Over 200 years in fact. It’s time to build a different Australia.
To build that different Australia it means many things. It means fighting until every one of the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission is implemented, it means saying no to a nuclear waste dump (repository) on Adnyamathanha land, it means supporting the Yolngu peoples establish a Treaty, it means no more racist cartoons in newspapers, it means the protection of sacred sites, it means less Aboriginal peoples in jail, it means less Aboriginal peoples dying from diabetes, it means our country embedding into every facet of our education systems that this country was invaded. It means justice for Ms Dhu, justice for young Doughty, justice for Morrison. There are so many more things that it means. I can’t afford for you to become desensitised to them. Non-Aboriginal people have been desensitised for too long. I can afford for you to come and be in relationship with us.
You see we need you. Let us as Aboriginal peoples grieve and heal and be together. While we do that, you can fight for justice for us, stand up for our rights, amplify our voices. But not just thinking about it as fighting for justice for Aboriginal peoples but by thinking about it as fighting for justice for your brothers and sisters. We can no long afford to call this the “Aboriginal issues”. These are Australian issues. Australia needs to wake up and stay awake.
You can stay awake by attending rallies and marches. The more people that attend, the more we as Aboriginal peoples feel like we matter, that #BlackLivesMatter. We here at Common Grace will keep you informed of any rallies, marches and actions.
You can stay awake by writing letters to State and Federal parliamentarians.
You can stay awake by reading Aboriginal journalists – Amy McQuire, Celeste Liddle, Danny Teece-Johnson.
You can stay awake by making it a priority to educate yourself. Watch First Australians. Watch First Footprints. Watch NITV.
You can stay awake by praying publicly at your church for our nation and your Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
You can stay awake by checking in on your Aboriginal friends – grieving with us, telling us you care, and making sure you take action.
Let us know on our Common Grace facebook page how you are choosing to stay awake. Stories are important so let’s start sharing so that we can all do our part to start building that Australia that is built on truth, justice, love and hope.
Think about and pray about how our Australia could be if we’d implemented these Royal Commission recommendations:
Recommendation 136. That a person found to be unconscious or not easily rousable whilst in a watch-house or cell must be immediately conveyed to a hospital, medical practitioner or a nurse. (Where quicker medical aid can be summoned to the watch-house or cell or there are reasons for believing that movement may be dangerous for the health of the detainee, such medical attendance should be sought).
Recommendation 147. That police instructions should be amended to make it mandatory for police to immediately notify the relatives of a detainee who is regarded as being 'at risk', or who has been transferred to hospital.
Recommendation 161. That police and prison officers should be instructed to immediately seek medical attention if any doubt arises as to a detainee's condition.
Recommendation 208. That, in view of the fact that many Aboriginal people throughout Australia express disappointment in the portrayal of Aboriginal people by the media, the media industry and media unions should encourage formal and informal contact with Aboriginal organisations, including Aboriginal media organisations where available. The purpose of such contact should be the creation of a better understanding, on all sides, of issues relating to media treatment of Aboriginal affairs.
Recommendation 339. That all political leaders and their parties recognise that reconciliation between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities in Australia must be achieved if community division, discord and injustice to Aboriginal people are to be avoided. To this end the Commission recommends that political leaders use their best endeavours to ensure bi-partisan public support for the process of reconciliation and that the urgency and necessity of the process be acknowledged.