When we say our sovereignty was never ceded – this is what it sounds like.
This year’s NAIDOC Theme ‘Always was, always will be’ recognises the unceded sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were here on this continent since the first sunrise.
Despite over two centuries of unbridled colonial violence from a society built upon the idea that we did not exist, we continue to proclaim our presence, everyday and everywhere. NAIDOC Week may have been postponed, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country turned up this week to tell the world ‘Black Lives Matter’.
As the oldest living culture on the planet we are both First Nations and first-raced on this continent and we have a distinct articulation of the global Black Lives Matter movement, one which was best captured at the rally convened by the Brisbane Blacks (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance [WAR] and Stop Black Deaths in Custody Committee) on Friday 4th July 2020 in Meanjin. I had the privilege of bearing witness to the testimonies of warriors – warriors that embodied the humility and humanity that is desperately needed in this time, and who theorised far better than any scholar the strategies for Black liberation. We saw in their speeches an affirmation of the global Black Lives Matter mandate of an inclusive movement that is committed to affirming ‘the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum’. We heard from Blackfullas, including Black men, Black women, and Black queer mob. We heard from West Papua, we heard from a Rohingyan refugee and another detained indefinitely, and we too heard from the daughter of a Black Panther.
We heard an appeal to a shared humanity. We heard their calls to move beyond counting and naming our dead, to instead a plea to hear their stories, to humanise them. We heard the demands to abolish violent and oppressive systems so that we may build anew, a society that needs not be reimagined, but a society that must remember what it first was to be human in this place – from those who became human here.
In sharing excerpts from various speakers at the Brisbane rally, we must remember too, that there is a price to be paid for speaking out, and we wish to honour all of those who speak out everyday with or without a megaphone. We hear you. We know that they speak because they have long realised the price is too high for the rest of us, if someone doesn’t. If we do not speak, we must at the very least amplify the voices of those that do. For each speaker that steps up to publicly speak of their pain, to reopen those wounds, they leave something of themselves each and every time.
It is incumbent upon us to ensure that those words, those pieces of themselves that they have so generously yet desperately shared is not left to float away into the air like the echo of our chants.
Those stories must forever ring through the streets that have paved over our landscape seeking to smooth over a most violent dispossession.
When we say our sovereignty was never ceded – this is what it sounds like.
The following are excerpts of the speakers at the Black Lives Matter Protest at Meanjin – hear their words and join the call to action.
Ruby Wharton, Gamilaraay Kooma Woman
I just want to remind everybody what we are doing here today. Today is a national Black Lives Matter march so they’re going out everywhere on every continent chanting the same chants that we are. The momentum has been lost, that’s no secret. We are seeing the people who aren’t here. We hear the lack of voices, we hear the crickets, louder than ever. And it’s important for us to realise, in this time and in this moment, this is where we fight. This is the time in the fight that matters the most. Now you mob are the real frontline and you’ll prove that time and time again. I can’t explain the disappointment; it was okay for people to come out here and want to be part of it when they were chasing after that clout, chasing the 100 likes on the Instagram post. But we are not those people and we are proving that today, to the world, to the police, to the government that we are not the people you fuck with, ever.
And we are here standing and calling for abolishing the police system, the child service systems, we are abolishing every system in this country because we aren’t fighting police, we are not fighting against guns, we are fighting against the system that we can’t see, but the white man is the symbol for it. So when we go out and we step on these streets we are acknowledging the sovereign fight as the core of what we are calling for today. I asked my mother when she said ‘what comes first the chicken or the egg?’, I said ‘what comes first, the system or police?’ But who gives a fuck if the chicken came before the egg or the egg came before the chicken – we eat that cunt for breakfast. These governments feed nothing but bread to the birds and we the warriors that eat em – you are the warriors that eat em! You the people that cultivate this land, you the people that run this land. And if we as a society decide we don’t want to police and we want to eat the fucking egg for breakfast, we going to fucking eat the cunt. I want my eggs benny for breakfast. I’m an angry Black woman and I’m hungry.
Nora, Rohingyan refugee.
I’m a Rohingyan refugee from Bangladesh. I had to escape my country for safety and today I came here to stand with you guys and I’m here to let you know that just at Kangaroo Point, 6 Rohingyan refugees and 120 other men are being locked up by this racist government. Shame on the government. That’s all I have to say today and…Always was, always will be Aboriginal Land!
Sam Woripa Watson, Wangeriburrah and Burrigubba person, Aboriginal activist and socialist who has been involved in organisation protests on Invasion Day, against Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, racism and for climate justice and refugee rights.
This is Aboriginal land and the oppression that happened on this land would not have happened if it was still run by our mob. There’s plenty of oppression on this land. This government is a racist government, they are a government of oppressors, of exploiters. Shame on the Australian government. For the last 3 ½ weeks I’ve been over at Kangaroo Point camping outside of a detention centre, a hotel that’s been turned in to a prison, a prison for refugees who have been locked up for up 7 years under Australia’s racist immigration policy. And we’re are camping out there because they wanted to transfer those men to a high security prison because they protested on the inside.
They wanted to take 30 men from their rooms and take them to BITA (Brisbane Immigration Transit Accomodation) which is a maximum security prison and we went out there 3 weeks ago and we stopped those transfer vans. We stood up and we said we will support the refugees; not on our country, not on our land. And we’re standing with them, we are not doing this for them, they got up and they protested first. They inspired us to stand up and we are here to stand with them because if the government can lock people up for 7 years when they have done nothing wrong then they can lock anyone up for any reason for as long as they want.
So when we come here and say Black Lives Matter we also have to say refugees lives matter. And we have to say that prisons should be abolished and detention centres should be abolished as well. And we need to say that this whole system that creates this oppression that locks our mob up needs to be abolished as well. Say it loud, say it proud, Burn Australia to the ground!
Frankie, West Papuan Refugee
I’m a refugee, I came to Australia when I was 16. I want to give you a message from my hometown West Papua, what’s going on in 1962, when the Indonesian come and kill my people in West Papua. So today here Black Lives Matter, what happened in West Papua and all over the world – Stop killing Black people, stop killing Black people in custody, and stop killing my people in West Papua. Free West Papua!
Kevin Yow Yeh, Wakka Wakka and South Sea Islander man and social worker.
My name is Kevin Yow Yeh, and today I march for every Black death in custody but I especially march for my grandfather Kevin Yow Yeh Sr. At the age of 34 this man apparently had a heart attack in a Mackay watch house. Only 6 years prior he was playing for Balmain Tigers in premierships in Sydney with Artie Beetson. I want to humanise this story. This last month we’ve seen plenty of stats, 430 plus Black deaths in custody…and that’s only since the Royal Commission, but what about all those deaths that lead to that. My grandfather was one of them. Let’s humanise these stories. When this man had a heart attack, he left his wife and he left five young children. My grandmother was still having his children when she had to put this man in the ground. That’s why we march! Of course we stand in solidarity with our brothers in America. And, of course we stand in solidarity with our sisters in West Papua, but today we stand for our lives here, on stolen land.
At 34 years of age my grandfather died, where’s his justice?… My family are lucky, we can google my grandfather because he was a football star, but what about all the other families, what about all the other fathers, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces who you can’t google? What about all the other mob? Where’s their justice? My name’s Kevin Yow Yeh, fuck the system, if you’re not with us you’re against us!
Farhad Rahmati, Manus survivor, freedom fighter and civil engineer
I’m a detainee, in Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation – I used to be in Kangaroo Point up until 3 weeks ago when I was forcefully moved from there because of being outspoken and expressing my opinions. I came to Australia 7 years ago and then I was sent to Manus Island where I was abandoned and exiled for 6 years. I lost some of my friends in that harsh environment in Manus Island and then finally some of us were brought here to Australia last year based on medivac legislation. Unfortunately, now we are trapped in indefinite detention here in Australia and what I am trying to ask you lovely people who care about the humanity of people regardless of gender, colour, religion, to stand up for our rights.
We are voiceless.
We need your help to get out of this situation which is ongoing. It’s been 7 years, that we are trapped in a situation and it seems there is no end if we leave it to your government’s hand. Please stand up for our rights, we are alone in this battle. We need your help to get our freedom. Freedom is a basic human right and that’s been stolen for 7 years. Please stand up for us and I pay my respect to the Aboriginal people of this land, the owners of this land forever.
Raja Clay, proud Aboriginal woman from Kalkadoon (Mt Isa) and Bwgcolman (Palm Island) who currently lives and works in Meanjin
Marsha P Johnson was a Queer woman of colour. She is the reason the United States and the world celebrated Pride in June. What is now used as a celebration started as a riot. The police used violence and intimidate ion against the 78er’s in Sydney. This was only 42 years ago. In Australia being Queer and a Blackfulla is a tough journey; trying to navigate, find and understand your identity in a country that demonises you for the colour of your skin and culture, it’s f****** hard. Trying to navigate, find and understand your gender or sexual identity on top of that, it’s even f****** harder. This is what leads to the high suicide rates in our Rainbow Community.
White LGBTI women, check your privilege. White LGBTI men, check your privilege. CIS gendered people, check your privilege. Queensland Police, your LGBTI Liaisons are not safe for us, your Police Liaisons for the Multicultural and Indigenous community are not safe for us. Your procedure manual is discriminatory. How dare you come into our safe spaces and commit acts of violence against us! How dare you come to Pride and Mardi Gras in your uniforms and demand respect! Shame on you! Queensland Police, your system capitalises on our Black deaths. There’s no need to protect and serve your community when you kill us. Your badge does not make you judge, jury and executioner. You CONTINUE to kill us with your Rainbow badges on, SHAME! Our identities and lives are not open for discussion, GOOGLE that s*** and get educated! This is not the time to be asking your friends of colour! Listen to what we are saying, don’t make this about you.
We are here, we are Queer, we are loud, we are proud, and WE WON’T BE SILENCED!
Fred Leone, Butchulla, Garrwa, Tongan and South Sea.
No justice, no peace, no racist police. 437. That’s the only ones that have been processed and reported – there’s 100s more. We are dying at an extreme rate. Why I’m here today, and why I’ve been coming out and marching over the years, is because that was my cousin up there, my countryman Mulrunji Doomagee up on Bwgcolman country on Palm Island. That’s my family, my cousin, my clan. Greggy Hart that’s my nephew, we had to sit here and look at his face before we put him in the ground. All his uncles who are my brothers came down from up north, we had to put him in the ground, we had to prepare his body. The trauma that we go through not only my family but all of our families. For the past 250 years this shit hasn’t stopped. Shame!
Black Lives Matter – they don’t just matter when it’s trending, they matter every single day! We come here, because of what happened to brother George Floyd, so we say rest in peace and to every other African American brother and sister that’s going through the same shit over there, but let’s not forget the first nations people over there, the women that are going missing every single day – their lives matter too! There’s a petition on change.org ‘Stop Black Deaths in Custody’ – we are calling for a review into all Aboriginal deaths in custody cases since the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody. We are asking for an end of racial profiling. In the media they say ‘oh Aboriginal youth are over-represented, Aboriginal women are over-represented, Aboriginal men are over-represented’. That’s code for white police are pulling these people over because they have a racist disposition towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people in this country. That’s the code, that’s the language that they are using. Shame on them. Black Lives Matter!
Leslie Crudup Villagarcia Machejefski, Life Coach.
I’m a US citizen, a Peruvian citizen and I’m an Australian citizen who has lived in this country for over a decade. One thing that this country has very much in common with the US, is a shared tragic shame of a white-washed history. There are stories they love to uphold and others they continue to suppress. The fact that we can stand here next to these racist statues, the fact that people will celebrate colonialism, will celebrate people who committed acts of genocide, but then the same government will allow ancient Indigenous sacred sites to be destroyed. That really tells you where peoples priorities are. The fact that the Queensland police can send letters to the residents of Kangaroo Point apologising for the inconvenience caused by the protestors who want to free the KP120, that tells you a lot about what peoples priorities are – the fact that someone’s lack of full enjoyment of their neighbourhood is in some universe comprobable to being held in indefinite detention without being charged with a crime is ridiculous.
There a lot of people out there in the world who want to be peacekeepers instead of peacemakers and they are part of the problem too. Those people who want to stick their fingers in their ears for all the bad things and all the bad people to go away; that is not the solution to the problem of systemic racism. It is a real problem. The way to solve the problem is not to pretend that it doesn’t exist. The problem needs to be confronted because dismantling systemic racism benefits everyone. The solution is not to move the protest to a more convenient location. The solution is not to wait for all of us to die a quiet peaceful death. By not being part of the solution, people are choosing to be part of the problem.
Kargun “Moojidi” Fogarty, Mununjali Yugambeh, Jagera, Kutjela, Gamilaroi and Guwamu People.
I would first like to pay my respects to the guardians of this place here, to the custodians of this area, where we are right now, pay my respects to the Jagera people, Yuggerah, also acknowledge the Turrbal people, all the Quandamooka people, Yugambeh people, Jinaburrah people, the Wakka Wakka people all surrounding this country right there. It’s important that we do this everytime, When we talk about justice, when we talk about what we want, white people learn about our protocols – they learn about the right way to approach our people, the same way that our people been approaching this country since the beginning of time. We need to go back to our first lore and our first lore has to be pushed forward to be the only lore of this place.
We are sick of being victimised and oppressed by these white people, that are coming here picking on us in the street all the time. They’re putting us in jail. I’m sicking of seeing my brothers and my sisters in jail, my uncles and my aunties in jail and when they get out they been through that much trauma on the inside of that place, a lot of em end up straight back in there. It’s a big cycle that’s going on and it’s a cycle that we need to stop. We need to break these chains down cause it’s tearing up our people. They’re breaking down our family, and the basis of our culture is our family. We have to keep on fighting for our family and our family lore. When is it going to be when people recognise the important role that Aboriginal women have in our communities? When are they going to respect the rights of our women to be the enforcers of our children, for them to choose the crime and the punishments that should be enforced? When are our people going to be the ones to be the judges, the prosecutors of the criminals that are committing crimes against our peoples every day in Brisbane? When are they going to face our boomerangs, when are they going to face our nulla nullas, when are they going to face our spears?
It comes back to culture and it has to happen in the right way. Even this here, ‘say their name’, are you sure you allowed to say their name? You give that family the respect or ask them if you can say that name? I know they say a lot of the names straight out in America, but there’s certain protocols that we have in our own communities within our own clans that have to be adhered to. We never gave our consent to any of these police officers to be our police, our bunjii are our police. Our sovereignty never stopped, our culture has never stopped. I keep on carrying on my culture, my children carry on my culture, and my grandchildren will be here to carry on that culture and that lore, because our lore lives within us. Our ancestors are here within us. Our lore has never stopped. And that’s the first lore of this land.
We have to stop with this narrative of 430 murders in custody because if you only acknowledge the 430 you are forgetting all the thousands and thousands and thousands of other Blackfullas that have died, died from genocide, from the massacres that happened here in this country. The coppers been killing our people. It all comes back to duty of care, that’s what they supposed to do. Where was the duty of the care for my mother’s cousin sister? She was born a boy and was transgender, had operation and all done, in and out of jail all her life. She was locked up in the jail in NSW and they put her in a man’s jail even after she had operation. They put her on suicide watch, and she hung herself on suicide watch. It shouldn’t have happened, she shouldn’t have been there in the first place, no duty of care, no looking after her.
Our people getting killed in lots of different ways. The brutality has to stop. It all comes down to what our people always called them, that Bullymen – they bullies! They’ve been given the power, but we can’t put it all on to the police because it’s the people in the white wigs that are making the decisions. It’s the judges that are putting our people in jail giving them maximum rate for penalties while non-Indigenous people getting way less – where’s the inquiry into that? A brother went to jail for stealing a car, he can’t get bail, but you go kill a Blackfulla you can get bail – it’s shame alright. It all has to change and hopefully it changes by the time my grandson steps forward, that’s all I’m hoping for. We won’t stop fighting.
To part of the solution or revolution:
- Donate to The Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR Brisbane: BSB 633 000 ACC 154 594 758) (WAR MELBOURNE: BSB 313 140 ACC 122 671 76)
- Donate to the National Justice Project: https://justice.org.au/donate/
- Donate to Stop Black Deaths in Custody https://au.gofundme.com/f/black-deaths-in-custody
- Sign the Queensland Stop Black Deaths in Custody petition: https://www.change.org/p/queensland-human-rights-commission-queensland-stop-black-deaths-in-custody?source_location=topic_page
Images throughout this piece have been captured by Vincent Railton and have been published with permission.