Thousands took part in the annual National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) march for land rights and justice for First Nations peoples on July 7.
The march was led by young people and there were large contingents of unionists, including from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Services Union.
First People’s Assembly member Jason Kelly said: “Our Elders are the holders of law. If we are to negotiate a treaty on an equal footing, the Elders’ voice must be fully established. They will define the bare minimum standards on what our law is at a state level, but also respecting each and every nation within the state.”
Other speakers included veteran Gumbaynggirr activist Gary Foley, Mutti Mutti man Gary Murray and Stolen Generations survivor Mick Edwards.
Foley told the crowd: “It takes a single spark to start a prairie fire. You mob can be that spark that leads to that prairie fire towards justice.
“The only, ultimate path to freedom for us is through political and economic independence. Without that, we will never control our own affairs. Maintain your rage until we achieve freedom and justice.”
The Stolen Generation and the ongoing disaster of child removals were key points raised.
Aunty Rieo Ellis addressed “inequities” First Nations peoples have faced since colonisation and the need to stop the government from taking their children away. “Children need to stay with us and with their culture,” she said.
“We have elders here that were removed … With these child removal policies, if you have a mental illness, you are not fit to have your child!”
Elders also spoke of the need to stop the high incarnation rates and Black deaths in custody.
Auntie Alison Fuller from Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) said the Department of Health and Human Services Victoria needed to stop removing kids. “Whenever DHHS are challenged, they back up!
“They know very well that they have absolutely no right [to remove children from their families] … Our black fellas were here first; our laws [are] best! Our law is above theirs!”
GMAR is a national grassroots group, led by Aboriginal grandmothers, fighting removals since 2014.
Fuller is also a founding member of Original Sovereign Tribe and Federation. “We are trying to unite Black Australia. Before we can treaty with the colonisers, we have to come to peace and treaty among ourselves so that we can stand united and fight against the colonisers.”