opinion

Their names aren't trending on social media, but their lives mattered just as much.

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.

Off the back of Reconciliation Week, an emotionally taxing time for First Nations people to begin with, I’m laying wide awake at 2am struggling to switch off and dissociate from what is unfolding in the United States. 

What we are seeing is people hurting. People tired of the brutality, the lives being lost. How many more families must mourn the life of their brother or sister. We are seeing people who have previously taken a knee quietly, now rioting. We are seeing people at their wits end, after their cries have fallen on deaf ears. We are seeing a complete lack of empathy, understanding and leadership.

And we are seeing looters, those benefiting from the trauma. 

George Floyd’s name has gone viral, and rightfully so. There needs to be justice for him and the other brothers and sisters who have been murdered at the hands of police. 

But as I see the uproar unfold on social media, many of our own Australian voices are in complete disgust. As we reshare George Floyd’s image and memory in rage, how many Australians know or remember these names: Veronica Marie Nelson Walker, Kumanjayi Walker and Tanya Day. These are just three First Nations Australians who have died in custody. Since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 there have been more than 400 deaths in custody.

Tanya Day. Image: Facebook.

As a proud Goreng Goreng/Taribaleng woman, this is just one reason why I and my fellow First Nations brothers and sisters cannot rest at night. 

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You see, we are constantly walking in two or three worlds.  We walk with over 65,000 years of culture with us, the longest continuing culture in the world. We try to take that weight with us every day as we walk through this new developed western world. On top of this balancing act we are present and active in the new world of technology and social media. 

We are and have always been here. We have always been innovators and we have against all odds fought to preserve our culture. But this past week -- in parallel to what’s unfolding over in the States -- we are hurting on our own soil across all three worlds. For the last 250 years we have been hurting. And we have been silenced.

I want to make very clear as I type this that what is unfolding in the States is not okay, and it needs to be spoken about and fought for by everyone. But in this fight for justice, as George Floyd’s name is trending and the Black Lives Matter is being widely spoken about, I want to call out to Australians and say this. For those who are speaking up and out about the loss of Black Lives in the states, remember that this happens every day on our own soil, yet Australia’s perfect narrative remains intact. Remember that Australia was born on the genocide of black lives and we have never once genuinely acknowledged that. We instead choose to celebrate it. Because it is not trending on social media, because A list celebrities are not posting about it, does not mean it is any less important to show up for First Nations people on your own soil. And I want to make it very clear that no lives lost at the hands of another person is okay. We as a nation of nations, need to abolish systematic racism.

After speaking out about this on my own social media channels my post has reached almost 110,000 people. Having so many people with societal influence re-share it has helped to open the conversation with many others.

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However there is still ignorance, denial and fear plaguing the comments, and my DMs. Side note: usually I’d be all for people sliding into my DMs. It’s part of how we consume information, communicate, and even date. But the current state of the nation and the deep-rooted bias, racism and ignorance is probably why I’m single (we’ve got baggage).

Back to the point; we have our own problems here on our own soil. Until we truly address our own history we will never be of use to any other country or minority. We have had moments in history that have been super ‘marketable,’ but what good have they done if we have never truly acknowledged the trauma of Australia’s birth and the continued oppression that maintains the status quo?

Kevin Rudd said ‘sorry’ to the Stolen Generations in a very ‘marketable’ way. But what good is that if our children are still being taken. Or worse – our children are taking their own lives as young as seven years old?

Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered his Redfern Speech in 1992, the year I was born. If I still hurt, if my people still hurt, what good has it done for us?

It’s just words with no action. 

I began this with two sides of the American narrative – the people hurting and fighting, and the looters who are benefiting. 

Consider this idea in the Australian Narrative, we as First Nations Australians are the ones hurting and fighting. The Australians sharing the American stories, but who remain silent about the injustice on our own soil, are the looters benefiting. Their privilege is being able to pick and choose what they fight for. Their privilege is switching off, is resting. It is living freely on the land that was taken, along with lives, languages and customs. 

So when it comes to Australia Day and the protests you see on your own soil, remember to stand with us then. Re-share our anger. Listen to the hurt in our voices. It goes beyond deaths in custody. Our hurt and trauma is intrinsically linked to birth of Australia; to the addictions forced upon us, and our futures that are foretold without our input. 

So start here, stand with us on our own soil. See your bias and privilege and sit with it for a while. Hear us. Don’t let our history fall on deaf ears.

You can follow Rachael Sarra on Instagram @sar.ra or visit her website www.rachaelsarra.com


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