A deliberate silence has engulfed this country for over 200 years. On Saturday 6 June 2020 that silence was overturned. Enormous crowds mobilised for the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia – hundreds of thousands according to organisers, though police put the figures in the tens of thousands – in a show of solidarity for the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Aboriginal deaths in custody.
The fact of the matter is Australia has a fundamental problem with murdering black people. From an Indigenous perspective, we have lived an undeclared colonial war since 1770 when the continent was proclaimed the possession of Britain, under the lie of Terra Nullius, which in turn refused the existence of our sovereignty. To refuse Indigenous sovereignty is to refuse our right to exist. This formed the fundamental relationship that our people have had with the colonial state since then.
We have never relinquished our sovereignty or given our consent to the British construct that is Australia. The intention of settler colonial law and policy is to place Indigenous people under a constant state of duress. Ongoing child removals; 434 black deaths in custody and not one conviction since the royal commission in 1991; control of Indigenous land; mining without consent; Indigenous communities in abject poverty; and the fact that Indigenous youth make up the entire juvenile prison population in some areas are all factors that show we are surviving an undeclared war. The colony has concealed this practice of murdering black people through the weight of a racist legal and constitutional framework normalising the process of genocide. We are at war. Indigenous people and Indigenous land are defenceless.
Our ongoing plight to exist freely and unharmed in our own country is an organic right that our people continue to fight for. To a colonial, you usually hear this expressed in terms of equality. But it transpires more deeply towards respecting Indigenous autonomy of Indigenous lives. And a recognition that Indigenous land must be returned to Indigenous peoples as a consequence of Terra Nullius and crimes committed against a sovereign people. This is the justice that our people must be accorded if we are to coexist peacefully.
The settler state must confess ownership of its historical wrongdoings and abuse of power. Like any violent perpetrator if it is to recover and transform from a place of denialism, they must take ownership.
The eyes of the world were on you Australia, when a police officer in Surry Hills, Sydney slammed an Indigenous child to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him. It made people uncomfortable. The officer “having a bad day” – as suggested by the New South Wales police commissioner – is no excuse. The colony demonstrated to the nation only just coming to grips with the reality of racial violence in the US, how mistreating black bodies (and a child) is so easily pardoned in their own suburbs. New South Wales police then sought an injunction in the NSW supreme court to stop the Sydney Black Lives Matter protest from going ahead. You can no longer hide your heads under the veil and safety of an unjust legal system – the people have answered our plight. And your position on this was noted. This is a global movement that has simmered for hundreds of years and one that the colony did not want on their doorstep. But it has arrived and timely too. The shift to awakening.
But there’s work to be done. The energy and power of huge crowds marching the streets in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra, Perth, Newcastle, Cairns, Alice Springs, Townsville, Dubbo, Wagga Wagga, Byron Bay, Wollongong, Sunshine Coast, Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Woorabinda, Port Macquarie, Wyong and others must be maintained if we are to impact societal change through an attitudinal shift. Throughout the course of history, uprising against an oppressive system has proven successful through consistent pressure before the new replaces the old. This is the showing up for black lives that now must take shape in Australia. The mounting need for Australia to clean up its racist halls is evident through this collective front. A multicultural uprising led by Indigenous people where white people are protesting – and loudly too.
The years of assimilation are slowly coming undone with the resurgence of our cultural identities and a returning to our traditional ways after generations of beatings by the hands of state-sanctioned violence. Our messages are now starting to resonate – to be anti-racist is to be anti-colonial. Settler-colonial Australia must decolonise and transform out of their romanticised history books to a new way of thinking and viewing the world. This must start with the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty. Fact. Then, and only then will we be free to rebuild, live and engage from an Indigenous critical standpoint of family and relationships where respect is principled in all and every living thing. This is the aspired outcome. This is black liberation in Australia.
Our birthright is to be liberated in our own homelands. Our communities operating under Indigenous legal and knowledge systems should not be feared but embraced. Our culture is the oldest continuing on the planet and a gift to humanity. A pathway together cannot be forged under a collapsing western capitalist-colonial system, but can be reconstructed by enabling Indigenous sovereignty and a new system of governance centred on respecting difference not intolerance. The world is no longer crying out for change but demanding it. The time is now here to be on the right side of history.
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