We shouldn’t have to say this in 2020 but we do: Black Lives Matter. We have to say it because in our society, not all lives are valued equally.
That’s confronting to hear. It can be hard to say. But the facts speak for themselves. Four hundred and thirty-two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded 29 years ago. And not one person has been convicted for these deaths.
Why am I, the CEO of Environment Victoria, writing to you about this? I don’t want to make this about me but I know some of you are wondering what this has to do with the environment.
There are myriad examples of how racial injustice links with environmental destruction. We need only look at the destruction of 46,000 year old rock shelters in Western Australia, how suppression of Indigenous land management has contributed to species decline or the terrible impact of climate change is having on many of the world’s marginalised, including First Nations.
The fact is, this is about all of us. Everyone who lives in Australia is a part of this. We all have a part to play in ensuring black lives are valued equally, including the environment movement.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recognised this in its sweeping recommendations that addressed institutions across Australian society, including the national park system Environment Victoria helped create.
Recommendation 315 is named the “Millstream recommendation” after the town where Aboriginal community representatives gathered to tell to the Commissioners about how being excluded from their own country and ignored by conservationists harmed them. It was part of the complex web of disrespect and exclusion that leads to poverty, poor health and in some cases, incarceration and a deaths in custody. They proposed national parks should be created with the informed consent of First Nations and jointly managed with Traditional Owners.
Ten years ago, the first jointly managed parks were created in Victoria after a campaign by the Traditional Owners and environmentalists working together. Increasingly, Traditional Owners are having their rights to manage country recognised, but there’s still a long way to go.
Of course deaths in custody are caused by so many factors. But I think the Millstream recommendation helps us understand how we all have a part to play. And that by saying nothing, we, as environmentalists, potentially allow harm to happen in our name.
So as we watch African Americans and their allies cry out in righteous anger at the murder of George Floyd, we must stand with them. We must say his name, we must call for justice. And we must also say the names of Tanya Day, David Dungay, Ms Dhu, and the hundreds more First Nations people who have died in police custody here in Australia. What’s more, we should do more than call for justice, we must commit to making justice a reality in our community.
This means stopping ongoing dispossession and environmental destruction. It means putting the rights of Traditional Owners at the centre of our campaigns. It means tackling racism and the many other injustices Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples still face, wherever we see them.
And to do that, we need to show up, listen, and answer First Nations’ calls to action.
To create a fairer, more sustainable future together, we must acknowledge, reflect on and learn from our shared, painful history. Standing with First Nations in this moment is a crucial step towards realising this future.
1. Show up when asked (and when it’s safe to do so). Here’s a list of protests happening this weekend to demand justice for Indigenous deaths in police custody in Australia and in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
Please consider the risks of coronavirus infection to yourself and others. Here are some guidelines compiled by The Conversation for protesting in a pandemic.
2. Educate yourself. Find out about where you live, whose land you live on and how discrimination affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and People of Colour daily. The climate movement has pulled together this list of resources.
3. Donate. Help support the families of people who have died in police custody and their campaigns for justice (links below) and the Sisters Inside campaign that helps people who have been imprisoned because they are unable to pay large fines.
Justice for Yuendumu: Inquiry on Police Shooting
Day Family Fundraiser
Justice for David Dungay Junior
4. Advocate. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are on the frontline impacts of climate change and extractive mining. Support environmental and land justice campaigns led by Traditional Owners and First Nations people who are protecting country and climate. Organisations like Original Power and Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network.