Real voices for change show courage
Many of us understand the importance of speaking out when things are not right; of taking a stand to make a difference, to improve our communities.
But to do so is not always easy: it takes courage, determination and real leadership.
In June last year, Dujuan Hoosan was awarded the Liberty Victoria Young Voltaire Human Rights Award.
Dujuan is an Arrente and Garrwa boy who grew up between his two homelands at Sandy Bore outstation near Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and Spring Creek near Borroloola, situated on the banks of the McArthur River in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Dujuan was chosen for his courage and determination in challenging governments to change the age they imprison children.
At 12, Dujuan was the youngest person ever to address the Human Rights Council at the United Nations.
Dujuan asked global leaders to support Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 in line with United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights. He also asked that First Nations languages be taught in schools.
He is a young leader who understands the importance of culture, family and community.
As a 10-year-old, Dujuan starred in the documentary, In My Blood It Runs, about his life growing up as a kid in the Northern Territory.
He was also, along with his family, the collaborating director and additional cameraperson.
The film travelled all around the world to film festivals, was nominated for two Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards and was ‘critics’ pick’ from the New York Times.
The Young Voltaire Award honours a person or group no older than 30 at the date of their nomination for an outstanding contribution to or action on free speech, human rights or civil liberties, with particular emphasis on progressing freedom, respect, equality and dignity.
As Liberty Victoria explained: ‘‘Dujuan Hoosan, at the age of 13, more than fits the bill by challenging the ‘white’ version of history and culture taught in schools, for speaking up for First Nations children and challenging governments.’’
Dujuan has shown how important it is that we speak out to highlight injustice and abuse: ‘‘I was proud to go to the United Nations to share things I want to see changed for kids like us. My film is for all Aboriginal kids. It is about our rights.’’
Locking up children as young as 10 for being ‘difficult’ is by any measure an injustice and an abuse.
Dujuan and his family have shown there can be a better way.
Another example of leadership, courage and determination was the presentation of the 2021 Voltaire Human Rights Award to the children of Tanya Day.
Tanya, a proud Yorta Yorta woman, tragically died after being arrested for public drunkenness — a law that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had recommended be repealed 30 years earlier.
While detained in a police cell, Tanya sustained an injury from which she did not recover.
The children of Tanya — Belinda Day, Warren Day, Apryl Day and Kimberly Watson — have undertaken a sustained effort over a number of years to fight the injustice that Tanya experienced, highlighting the inappropriateness of public drunkenness laws and advocating for justice for First Nations people, especially those in custody.
The advocacy work of the children is an example of an extraordinary commitment to human rights.
The family’s sacrifice and effort at a time of great personal grief and their ongoing public advocacy to seek justice in relation to Tanya’s death has resulted in a community-wide benefit.
Tanya’s children have been instrumental in the abolishment of the public drunkenness law in Victoria.
They have highlighted how such laws disproportionately affect First Nations people and their calls for public drunkenness laws to be replaced by a more compassionate public health response are in the process of being realised.
At the same time, they are using their profile to seek justice for First Nations people.
Apryl has been instrumental in founding the Dhadjowa Foundation, which has been established to advocate for families whose loved ones have died in custody and to provide a coordinated approach to assisting those families that is family-led with First Nations people making the decisions.
On September 23 this year, the same courage, determination and leadership resulted in a unanimous decision in the South Australian Parliament to ban the use of ‘spit hoods’ by police and corrections officers and in mental health contexts.
South Australia became the first jurisdiction in Australia to do so.
Spit hoods are banned for use on children in every state and territory, but South Australia is the first to ban their use on adults.
The Bill, known as Fella’s Bill, followed the high-profile death in custody of Wiradjuri, Kokatha, and Wirangu man Wayne ‘‘Fella’’ Morrison in September 2016.
Since then, Wayne’s family has led a sustained campaign to have spit hoods banned in South Australia and across the country.
At the time, Latoya Aroha Rule, Wayne’s sister, talked about her advocacy to have the spit hoods banned.
‘‘For me, the grieving process hasn’t really started properly. I was pretty upset initially but then I had to go protest, because we have to enact some justice. I had to look at my brother as another Aboriginal man. You say sure, he was my brother, but he’s also someone else’s brother. This is not just about Wayne, it’s about other people like Ms Dhu. It’s systemic, it’s oppression.’’
The campaigning began only a couple of months after her brother’s death, when Latoya helped organise a nationwide call for action, with protests held in Brisbane, Adelaide and Sydney.
Across the three cities, protesters’ signs called on justice for ‘‘Fella’’ Morrison as well as for Ms Dhu, the young Yamitji woman who died tragically in a South Hedland watch-house after being denied appropriate healthcare, twice.
Again, this took such courage at a time the Morrison family was grieving the loss of their son, brother, uncle. Through their determination to speak out they have achieved change.
On the Dhadjowa Foundation website, this statement sums up the courage, determination and leadership of these families who have advocated for change: ‘‘Families whose loved ones have died in custody have been leading the way for change to end this injustice since colonisation.
‘‘Even without formal support systems, families have fundraised and secured pro bono legal, advocacy and campaigning support. Most significantly, the advocacy of these families is leading real change and we must support and uplift these families that have the lived experience.’’
We all know racist policies that unfairly target people based on their colour are wrong: they are unfair and seek to divide.
To stand up and call these out takes courage.
We can all learn much from Dujuan Hoosan, Belinda Day, Warren Day, Apryl Day and Kimberly Watson, Latoya Rule and the Morrison family — real voices for change.
What can you do to learn more? Watch the documentary In My Blood It Runs available on Netflix or iTunes
Visit www.raisetheage.org.au/ to sign the petition.
To find out more about the Dhadjowa Foundation visit https://dhadjowa.com.au/