Making Black Lives Matter in Australia
Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLM) accepted the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize on Thursday night at Town Hall for their activism for racial equality- a movement that has resonated with indigenous people in Australia.
Academic and Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman, Larissa Behrendt, said the conversations started by the BLM movement have been important conversations in Australia as they address indigenous issues such as the number of indigenous deaths in custody.
“[BLM is] highlighting the ways in which unconscious bias and outright racism still pervade our institutions and the behaviour of the state in the way it treats indigenous people and other marginalized or culturally and religiously distinct groups for that matter,” said Behrendt.
Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, are the trio of African American women who founded the BLM movement in 2013, after an unarmed black teenager Travyon Martin was fatally shot in Florida by a volunteer neighbourhood watch. The hashtag again took prominence in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since then the movement has grown not just in the United States but in 40 other countries around the world.
“For building a powerful movement for racial equality, courageously reigniting a global conversation around state violence and racism. And for harnessing the potential of new platforms and power of people to inspire a bold movement for change at a time when peace is threatened by growing inequality and injustice.”
Patrisse Cullors, along with Toronto BLM Chapter leader Rodney Diverlus, and Dawn Modkins accepted the award on behalf of the movement.
“It has become a moment and a movement that is international, worldwide in its scope of liberation for black people and oppressed people everywhere,” said Cullors.
“We stand here today as a Black Lives Matter Global Network committed to be a part of the long legacy of global struggle in solidarity with Indigenous people and South Sea Islander and Torres Strait Islander people.”
— Maxine Beneba Clarke (@slamup) November 2, 2017
Birrigubba, Kalkadoon and South–Sea Islander woman, Professor Gracelyn Smallwood, who is a prominent indigenous activist thanked the Sydney Peace Prize for brining BLM to the country. Prof. Smallwood also pointed out how this conversation again highlighted the fact that the royal commission into indigenous deaths in custody gave its final report in 1991 and yet most of the 339 recommendations have not been implemented. As a result around 340 indigenous people have died in custody since the commission.
After explaining two cases of recent indigenous deaths in custody, Prof Smallwood said it is the people who have the power to change this from happening again.
“There was so much demonstration and I am very thankful to a lot of non-indigenous people around this country and around the world and black people from around the world that started to send lots of emails to say this is unacceptable behaviour.
“If you are not speaking out against violations of human rights, you’re not part of the solution you are part of the problem,” said Prof Smallwood.
Speakers on the awards night also highlighted that this is not just about policing but also looking for solutions to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous people in regards to access to health care and education as well as improving life expectancy, child mortality and decreasing prison numbers. These are all aspects that have not improved as shown in the Close the Gap Report that came out earlier this year.
Just this week national leaders from the Uniting church in Australia and the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress expressed disappointment as the Federal Government ruled out the Voice to Parliament indigenous advisory body. It was hoped the proposal would bring greater national representation for First Peoples.
“Instead of buckling pre-emptively to intolerance, the Government should be leading for the future. We don’t need a dead hand on the Uluru Statement from the Heart,” said Uniting Church in Australia President, Stuart McMillan.
The Sydney Peace Prize award and the BLM has again shone the light on these indigenous issues and as Cullors explained in her opening speech, the biggest challenge is continuing the conversation and not making it an easy conversation but a courageous one.
This is the first time a movement/organisation has received the prize with previous awardees including Ireland’s former president and ex UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and South African anti-apartheid activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu.