Decolonising solidarity: how to not be accidentally annoying and racist when working with Indigenous people

Aboriginal people are at the forefront of many environmental campaigns around Australia. However, managing the relationship with environmental allies can become a struggle in itself. In her new book Decolonizing Solidarity, Clare Land explores the dynamics between these two groups who together could become a more powerful force.

Recent protests from a subset of AFL fans and a handful of retired non-Aboriginal sportsmen that the anti-Adam Goodes booing is not racist has had me thinking how something very similar has been known to play out between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal activists, including some environmental activists/campaigners.

Aboriginal people are at the forefront of many land-protection campaigns around Australia. At times they have issued direct calls to environmental activists to support them in their attempts to resist the plans of pushy miners or property developers.

However, managing the relationship with supporters can itself be a huge and exhausting task. This is because although many supporters have the best intentions, some may lack the background knowledge required to form successful alliances with Aboriginal people. Many do not seek alliances with Aboriginal people, and the relevance of such alliances might not be immediately obvious.

The roots of the tensions between Aboriginal people and some environmental activists may be that these potential supporters come to the relationship through an interest that is primarily environmental. Aboriginal people who belong to the area may be seen as an unexpected element, even an impediment to the business of protecting a certain species or habitat. The idea that Aboriginal people would claim a right to have a say over the campaign and its tactics can be confronting to some.

This is frustrating for many politically active Aboriginal people because they have had these arguments over and over again since the 1960s. In a discussion of several campaigns he’d been involved in, Gary Foley wrote that this felt like "having to re-invent the wheel for each new generation of non-Koori supporters".

I have just spent several years looking into relationships between Aboriginal people from the south east Australian land rights movement and their supporters. The results of this research are about to be published in a book, Decolonizing Solidarity: Dilemmas and Directions for Supporters of Indigenous Struggles. The research was inspired by Foley’s frustration about having to deal with these recurrent tensions within campaigns.

In the Mirrar people’s campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine in the late 1990s I saw first-hand that when it was suggested that members of Jabiluka Action Group (Melbourne) were acting racist, they protested extremely strongly. The conversation didn’t progress very far.

I observed another unsatisfying outcome unfold during the Black GST’s Stolenwealth Games Campaign in 2006. The campaign centred around a convergence of Aboriginal people and supporters at King’s Domain in central Melbourne, when supporters were asked to support during the day but not camp over at night, many immediately quit the campaign.

It seemed to me that when Aboriginal people attempted to shape the mode of their supporters’ work, this was often rejected. However, this is not always the case. Robbie Thorpe – who campaigned with environmental activists in the Goolengook struggle – has suggested that ferals are often the quickest to come to terms with the sort of politics he speaks. It is quite interesting to ponder why this would be so.

Decolonizing Solidarity is intended to be thought-provoking and ultimately supportive of people’s struggles against greed and exploitation. I’m looking forward to hearing what greenies think of the book.

About the author

Clare Land is a non-Aboriginal person living on Kulin nation land. She has been an active supporter of Aboriginal struggles since 1998 and, with Robbie Thorpe (Gunai/Maar), a broadcaster on 3CR since 2004. She was a participant in the Jabiluka blockade, the Irati Wanti campaign, the Black GST and has worked for ANTaR Victoria.

On the road with anti-nuclear activism – the Radioactive Exposure Tour

This June the Radioactive Exposure Tour will travel almost 5000 kilometres through three states exposing people to the reality of radioactive racism, the impacts of uranium mining, radioactive waste and nuclear expansion. Jemila Rushton reports on her first Rad Tour in 2014 and what's coming up this year.

The Radioactive Exposure (Rad) Tour sure is a wild ride. It bundles activists, campaigners and basically anyone with an interest in learning about the nuclear industry into buses powered by recycled vegetable oil to travel dusty desert roads and long highways on a journey through Australia’s nuclear landscape.

Organised by Friends of the Earth's Anti Uranium and Clean Energy (ACE) Collective, the Tour is not just about bush camping, fireside yarns and spectacular country (although you do get all that!). Its true purpose is to provide a vital opportunity to build community and develop creative campaign strategies for the most pressing nuclear issues.

We gather campaigners from across the country, meet with Elders and Traditional Owners who have for too long experienced radioactive racism on their lands, and connect with communities set to be most affected by nuclear activities. We listen, we learn, we collaborate.

The Rad Tour is always changing; each year we design the tour in line with current environmental and political concerns. Last year the Tour travelled from Melbourne to Muckaty in the Northern Territory to meet with Traditional Owners campaigning to stop a waste dump being built on their land. After discovering a sordid and racist history of nuclear testing and mining crossing South Australia we headed north to Tennant Creek where we met with Warlmanpa Traditional Owner Dianne Stokes and many other Elders who had been fighting the Federal Government's plans to build a nuclear waste dump on their land for almost a decade.

2014 was an inspiring journey, after which many of the crew from the Tour went on to organise fundraisers, parties and public events in Sydney and Melbourne to increase awareness and raise badly needed funds to support Beyond Nuclear Initiative campaigners and Traditional Owners in the lead up to their Federal Court case.

This year, following the historic win at Muckaty (the community defeated the dump proposal in June 2014), the focus of the Rad Tour has shifted to new horizons. The recent exploration of sites in Western New South Wales for rare earths and uranium mining, and the potential of nuclear expansion in South Australia under the recently announced Royal Commission, has put nuclear power and nuclear waste back on the political agenda. Plans are being made to ensure this Rad Tour has an even bigger impact than last year.

Starting in Melbourne we will journey up the east coast to New South Wales and visit the abandoned nuclear reactor project at Jervis Bay before visiting Australia’s controversial and only reactor at Lucas Heights. Then we'll head west to meet with communities in Dubbo and Broken Hill and hear about what they are doing to combat the development of new mines in their communities. We will then explore some more nuclear history at the disused uranium mine at Radium Hill before witnessing the contentious method of in-situ leach mining at the Beverly 4 uranium mine in South Australia.

The Tour will visit BHP Billiton's Olympic Dam uranium mine at Roxby Downs, the largest uranium deposit in the world. The mine is a long standing environmental and social disaster and BHP plans to trial the contentious acid heap leach mining method this year. Continuing south to Woomera we'll hear first-hand accounts of the British nuclear bomb tests at Maralinga and Emu Field from nuclear veteran and whistle-blower Avon Hudson. We'll stop by Nurrungar, the desert surveillance base that closed in 1999, before arriving in Adelaide right in time for the Students of Sustainability Conference, and onwards back to Melbourne. 

If you’re considering coming on the Rad Tour as a first timer, or want to get back into nuclear-free campaigning, this is the year to get on board. It’s going to be a trip of action, with skillshares, protests, marches, strategy meetings and a lot of collaboration cross-country. We are already making plans to cause a stir in each community we visit to make sure that politicians in the cities know that Australians do not support a nuclear future.

Before my experience on the Rad Tour last year, I had little knowledge of the nuclear industry in Australia and came with little campaign experience. I found it an amazing way to learn about a dark and often undiscussed part of Australian history, experience the power of issue-based campaigning, and become part of a passionate and powerful movement.

If you’re looking for a great way to travel to the Students of Sustainability (SoS) Conference in Adelaide from any of the northern states, come with us! You'll get an amazing insight into issues that are unfolding right now, and knowledge that you can share with many others at the conference. The ACE Collective are planning to get together a small crew to make noise, make art and bring public attention to what’s happening in the nuclear industry while we're in Adelaide too. So if you’re coming to SoS we want you on the Radioactive Exposure Tour too!

  • The Rad Tour 2015 runs from Saturday 27 June to Wednesday 8 July. The costs are: concession $550, waged $750, solidarity $950. For more info visit or contact Jemila on 0426962506 or at or sign up here.
  • The ACE Collective meets every second Monday at 6pm at Friends of the Earth, 312 Smith Street, Collingwood. The next meetings are 27 Apr and 11 May. Come along to get involved.
  • Check out groups campaigning against mining and uranium across the country.

About the author

Jemila has been campaigning with the ACE Collective since May 2014 after joining the Radioactive Exposure Tour from Melbourne to Muckaty. In 2015 she is due to finish up her studies in community development and complete a study in relation to policy and public opinion throughout the Muckaty campaign.

Radioactive racism in the Wild West – WA takes aim at remote communities

Radioactive racism article - stand up for Aboriginal remote communities on 1 May and join in protests across the country

Pushing Aboriginal people off their land for mining interests is nothing new in Western Australia, but Premier Barnett's plans to close 150 communities and gut the Aboriginal Heritage Act takes it to a new level, reports Mia Pepper

You’d be forgiven for thinking West Australia was the Wild West. The announcement from the WA Government to close 150 Aboriginal remote communities comes hot on the heels of plans to gut the Aboriginal Heritage Act.

The changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act have two main objectives: one is to make it easier for Aboriginal Heritage Sites on the Aboriginal Heritage Register to be de-listed; the other is to make it harder to get Aboriginal Heritage Sites to be listed in the first place. One of the key factors in a site getting and staying on the register is proving an ongoing connection to the site – a logistical factor made much harder if people are being forcibly removed from remote communities.

Pastor Geoffrey Stokes, a Wongutha man from Kalgoorlie, was out hunting one day near Mt Margaret when he encountered a mining company, Darlex, literally about to dig into a cave – an Aboriginal Heritage Site. This particular site had been lodged with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs by the Goldfields Land and Sea Council 23 years earlier – but still had not been officially registered and thus the company was about to destroy the site without having gained permission or consulting with the Aboriginal custodians.

On inquiries made to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) about this site, it was revealed that something like 10,000 sites have been lodged but never registered.

This is how the system works. Traditional Owners can lodge a site with the DAA and the Department may or may not register it – depending how busy they are over a period of about two decades. Once it is registered a mining company can then apply to destroy it anyway, but rest assured if it’s registered you’ll be consulted about the sites impending doom. However if you don’t visit the site regularly, under a changed Aboriginal Heritage Act it’s likely to be deregistered.

I’m reminded of being at a mining conference in WA where the then Minister for Mines and Petroleum gave a keynote presentation. He ended by inviting everyone to stay around for a raffle – “the prize is a free Aboriginal Heritage clearance.” The miners roared with laughter. The Minister re-used the joke at the time of the raffle – allowing us to record this sick joke about the religion and culture of Australia’s first people. When played back to him in Parliament, he scoffed and said it was taken out of context.

Just around the corner from Mt Margaret is Mulga Rocks – the site of the latest uranium mine proposal by a company which has recently changed its name to Vimy Resources. Vimy is like an all-star cast with a former Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) executive as Director, a former Liberal MP on the Board of Directors and generously funded by Twiggy Forrest. Vimy recently submitted a scoping study for Mulga Rocks, which is near Kalgoorlie and adjacent to the Queen Victoria Springs an A Class Nature Reserve.

In submissions made to the scoping study, the DAA provided comment in response to the proposal saying the company should minimise impact to Aboriginal Heritage, should consult with the DAA and the Central Desert Native Title Service, and suggesting that some sites may still be under the protection of the not- yet gutted Aboriginal Heritage Act. The company responded: “No Native Title Groups claim the areas and no traditional owners undertake any traditional activities in the area.”

That comment was based on a 1982 'study' by an American anthropologist – using a dubious methodology for the study. The Anthropologist just kind of asked around in the nearest town (150km away), a process that identified at least one family who use to go out, no further inquiries were made about that family. The family survived and live in the area but are yet to be consulted. Neighbouring communities and interested communities are yet to be consulted and the company refuses to consult, stating the project won’t impact anyone so there’s no need.

The closest community to the proposed Mulga Rocks mine is called Coonana and has been on the Government's hit- list of communities to close down for many year. Slowly but surely the WA Government has cut all funding to the community and it is now virtually a ghost town. Coonana is a refugee community, people that have been moved from community to community over generations. Known as the Spinifex people, they came across the border from South Australia following the nuclear weapons tests at Maralinga and Emu Field in the 1950s.

The Government used to kick Aboriginal people hitching a free ride west off the train but then had a bright idea: give Aboriginal people a free ride west and get them off the atomic bomb testing sites permanently. The dislocation that began during the bomb tests is very much alive today.

The starvation of services to Coonana should send alarm bells in light of the proposal to close 150 remote communities. At Oombulgurri in the Kimberley, the strategy was to demolish houses ... no resettlement, no alternative housing, nothing. As the country tries to heal from centuries of displacement and bad Government policy, this Government is creating another generation of displaced people.

The changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act are due to be debated in the WA Parliament in the first quarter of 2015. The plans to shut 150 remote Aboriginal communities are much more secretive − the Premier Colin Barnett has promised consultation but has refused an invitation from the Kimberley Land Council to join a joint Land Councils meeting about the closures.

Proposals to use royalties money from the mining industry to meet the funding shortfall have been squashed by the Premier. As the mining boom crashes and the Government's focus is on supporting industry rather than communities, we are expecting further attacks on communities and culture to make it easier and cheaper for mining companies to get projects off the ground.

  • Join in protests across the country (and internationally) on the national day of action to support remote communities on Friday 1 May. Here's a list of protests already organised and the Facebook page.
  • Stand with the Parnngurr and take action online to stop the proposed uranium mine on Aboriginal land at Kintyre, WA's biggest National Park.
  • Check out the active groups campaigning for Indigenous justice across Australia.

About the author

Mia Pepper is a long time anti-uranium campaigner with a strong focus on Indigenous rights. She's worked with Friends of the Earth on the campaign to shut down Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia and is currently the Nuclear Free Campaigner at the Conservation Council of Western Australia and Deputy Chair Mineral Policy Institute.

What does 26 January mean to a 22 year old Gunditjmara Kirrae Whurrong woman?

Sissy's Father and Nanna

Gunditjmara Kirrae Whurrong woman Sissy Austin was born in 1994, the year that 26 January became a public holiday in Australia. Here she describes how it feels to witness the annual celebration of the day, 229 years ago, when this land was declared 'nobody's land' and stolen from her people.

Every year in January I get this sickening feeling, I feel like my heart is sinking into the ground, dragging along behind me to get through the days leading up to and following 26 of January, the sleepless nights knowing that in only a few days thousands of people will be flying their meaningless flag, shoving their faces with sausages, sculling alcohol whilst laying in a pool under the sun listening to the Triple J Countdown, whatever it is called.

Meanwhile as an Aboriginal woman, I am feeling intense feelings of internal anger, grief and loss. If I could explain what intense internal anger feels like I would.

I find myself sitting at my work desk with silent tears rolling down my face, with headphones in playing my Uncle Kutcha’s song, Is this what we deserve, which states “we been here since time began, our ancestors footprints are buried in the sand, we are but caretakers of this ancient land, but you still don’t understand”. I am saddened that this song was released in 2007, ten years ago, and we are still asking the same question: is this what we deserve? We know we don’t deserve this, but do you? > Watch Uncle Kutcha's song

In 1988, Aboriginal People lead a gathering/march in Sydney and marched from Redfern Park to Hyde Park and then onto Sydney Harbour to signify survival. The photo at the top of this article is of my father and my nana at this event.

My father tells me the story of this day and that the rest of the country were celebrating 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet of British convict ships in 1788. 200 years since your flag arrived on this land, since your diseases and your violent ways forced there ways onto this land, since your BBQ's, your thongs and your sausages suddenly became this country’s culture.

The photo for me tells a thousand stories, it is survival, it is hope and it is determination.

My father is a member of the Stolen Generation and was removed from his family when he was 15 months old. He was made a ward of the state until he was 16 years old. For 16 years my father was shuttled between institutions and foster parents while my Nana Eileen Austin wrote repeatedly to the state government seeking the return of her son.

Can you imagine living 16 years not knowing of your true identity as an Aboriginal man? Can you imagine a mother, writing to the state government for 16 years trying to find out where her son was? Can you imagine, being given over five different last names and having to adapt to each one and each different family's values and beliefs?

And then connecting with your true identity and coming to the conclusion that you’re a part of the oldest continuing culture in human history? Discovering that you’re a decedent of a culture that has cared for this country for thousands of generations? That your identity isn’t defined by the 16 years of genocide you have become a victim of, yet it is defined by your creator, Bunjil, it is defined by strong cultural and spiritual connections to country and defined by values of respect, authenticity, knowledge, loyalty, wisdom and trustworthiness.

My father was eventually released from the system at the age of 16. After a long journey he finally tracked down his mother Eileen Austin. They spent eight years together before she passed away in 1989 - one year after the above photo was taken.

In 2011, my father became the first Victorian Aboriginal man to receive compensation and a written apology from the Victorian Government due to poor treatment as a member of the Stolen Generation. Dad described this case as “It’s one for Mum. It’s a great acknowledgment and a salute to a mother who never gave up loving me”.

Why do I find myself sitting at my desk at work with tears rolling down my face? Because I am tired yet I am determined. I feel poor, yet I feel rich. I feel anxious. So anxious at the thought of thousands upon thousands of people celebrating on the day my peoples' country was declared terra nullius. This morning I went into the petrol station to pay and the Australia Day merchandise caught my eye. I feel like my heart is consistently jarring.

Should I book myself an appointment with a non- Indigenous counsellor to help me? Should I risk talking to a professional to then find myself educating her/him leaving me feeling more traumatised than before? Will this actually happen? I don’t know. I don’t know but the anxiety of the thought of this is debilitating enough. So instead I am writing.

The 26th of January is a Day of Mourning. I will always mourn alongside my Brothers and Sisters, Aunties and Uncles. I mourn the peoples whose lives were violently taken in massacres. I mourn for those who were sent to prison camps, forced to live in reserves. I mourn for the culture we have lost. I mourn and I long to speak my own language. I will forever cry for our women and children who were raped, massacred and tortured at the hands of government and churches.

I will not stand for your gammin Australian National Anthem, for this country is NOT young and this country is NOT free. I want this country to recognise the violent frontier wars. I want justice for my people. I want our children free from white institutions. I want my people to be able to LIVE in this country not just SURVIVE in this country. I want my elders to be able to leave us for the dreamtime knowing that myself and generations to come will be okay in this country.

I am not just a young woman, I am the grandchild of Eileen Austin and the great grandchild of Doris Clarke and William James Austin. I come from a culture of survivors, of fighters and a culture of respect, integrity and selflessness. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunty and a cousin.

My identity isn’t defined by the 22 years I have been physically living in this country. My identity is defined by our creator Bunjil. My identity is defined by nana’s journey, my father’s journey. My identity is defined by my own endless struggle to survive in this country. My journey does not end here. I will never give up fighting for my people. I will never be silenced by the oppressor. My father and my nana did not march in Sydney in 1988 for nothing. I have not learnt to be a survivor, I have not learnt to be a caretaker of country, land and people, I have not learnt to fight for myself and my people’s rights, I have not learnt solidarity, loyalty and respect - I have inherited it.

It is 12 January today, I can only imagine that myself and my brothers and sisters feelings are only going to get worse as each day draws closer to this traumatising day in our calendars. But together we must stand strong in solidarity. We must stand taller for the 15,455 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care*. We must march stronger for the 9,885 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are currently incarcerated** and we must yell louder for those that are not yelling with us, for they have either left us for the dreamtime or they’re so severely affected by the countless mental and physical illnesses our people suffer from, leaving their voices unheard.

Our pain and our suffering is not limited to 26 January. The fact that Australia celebrates being Australia on this date is representative of something larger than just that. Changing the date will never change the fact that as of 1788 this country was built, and continues to be built on layers upon layers of genocide.

It is your decision on how you chose to think and act.

** ABS

About the author

Sissy is a 22 year old Gunditjmara Kirrae Whurrong woman and Aboriginal activist.

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