Content warning: This blog post features discussions of racism and violence.
Non-Indigenous people can always learn and do more to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Here are some ways you can be a better and more accountable ally – not just around 26 January, but every day.
Educate yourself on truth-telling about Australia’s dark history
Ally action and accountability must involve understanding what’s come and happened before you, and what continues today.
Australia has a dark and continuing story of violence since its invasion by British colonisers in 1788. Dr Victoria Grieve-Williams (Warraimaay) talks about how history that records ‘great white men’ of a colonial past – like in the dominant narrative about Australian history – covers up murder, rape and other genocidal acts. It is a way to justify the ‘creation’ of a ‘new country’ and erase the First Peoples.
As Dr Victoria says, “History is with us, it impacts on our lives now, until it is addressed.” This ongoing impact is why it’s important for non-Indigenous people to know Australia’s truth when we take action.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart has an online story timeline that is a useful starting point for independent learning. It records regional dialogue about Law, invasion, resistance, mourning, activism, land rights and A Yolngu word that refers to coming together to make peace. It’s also used to refer to treaty.Makarrata. These are all different parts of Australia’s story that continue to impact today.
There’s always more to learn – check out some of the resources by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people below. Try setting yourself monthly goals for learning and reflection, talk to other non-Indigenous people about ongoing learning and keep each other accountable, and use your new knowledge to inform your actions.
- Docuseries: First Australians - Rachel Perkins (Arrernte and Kalkadoon) & Beck Cole (Luritja and Warramungu)
- Short Film: No Way to Forget – Richard J Frankland (Gunditjmara), 1996.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this film includes the voices and images of people who have now passed into the Dreamtime.
- Film: Sweet Country – Warwick Thornton (Kaytetye), 2018.
- Documentary: Occupation: Native – Trisha Morton-Thomas (Anmatyerr), 2017.
- Article: A short history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy – an indelible reminder of unceded sovereignty – Prof Bronwyn Carlson (Aboriginal woman) and Lynda-June Coe (Wiradjuri, Badu Island)
- Book: Talkin’ Up to the White Woman: Indigenous women and feminism – Prof Aileen Moreton-Robinson (Goenpul woman of the Quandamooka people)
- Book: Another Day in the Colony – Chelsea Watego (Munanjahli and South Sea Islander woman)
- Book: Australia Day - Stan Grant (Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi)
- Book: Lies, Damned Lies: A personal exploration of the impact of colonisation - Claire G Coleman (Noongar)
- Book: Black and Blue: A memoir of racism and resilience - Veronica Gorrie (Gunai/Kurnai)
- Prose: Living on Stolen Land – Ambelin Kwaymullina (Palyku woman of the Pilbara region)
- Online: The Killing Times
- Online: Who were the Black Diggers?
- Online: Truth and Justice in Victoria
- In person: Aboriginal History of Yarra heritage walking trail
Contribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led campaigns
Useful action from non-Indigenous allies is about following the lead of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This means listening to how they define an issue and what action you should take. A good way to do this is by contributing to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led campaigns – below are some examples.
- Learn Our Truth: Campaign for Australian schools to teach true First Nations histories, led by the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC), the In My Blood it Runs documentary, and BE. Collective Culture.
- #RaiseTheAge: Campaign to raise the age of Being held responsible for a crime. This means you can be arrested, charged with an offence, taken to court and go to prison.criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old. This campaign is by Change the Record, an Aboriginal-led justice coalition of legal, health and family violence prevention experts to end the incarceration of, and family violence against, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Our Islands, Our Home: Torres Strait Islander people bringing a human rights complaint against the Australian Government to the United Nations for inaction on climate change.
- Family Matters: Aboriginal-led campaign to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care by 2040.
- Free the Flag: Campaign to free the Aboriginal flag from When someone ‘owns’ the rights to something. Other people have to pay for permission to use it.licensing agreements so Aboriginal people have equal rights and access to their flag. This is a national campaign by the Aboriginal-led business Clothing the Gaps.
Think about how you can support an Aboriginal-led campaign in your daily actions too, and what unconscious biases you can unlearn. For example, many campaigns will talk about their main goals or ‘asks’. What everyday actions in your life could you do (or not do) that support these?
Ask your local MP where they stand on Aboriginal justice
As community decisionmakers, local MPs should hear that Aboriginal justice matters to you and feel pressure to actively work on it.
Take a look at what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations in your local area are saying is important and act accordingly. Aside from existing campaigns, you can also look at the work of existing organisations (see the list under ‘Aboriginal-led non-profits’ below).
- Find your local electorate
- Find the contact details of your electorate’s MP
- Email your MP on a matter that’s important to Aboriginal people in your area. You can include some details and then ask them, ‘what action are you committing to? Will you advocate to your parliamentary colleagues to support you?’ You might like to also suggest actions to them based on what you’ve learned. Hold them accountable by saying that you will be anticipating their response.
There are also some existing campaigns that impact justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with email templates you can customise and send to your MP. For example, Change the Record’s End Blak Deaths in Custody campaign and the campaign to enact the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s reforms.
Support Aboriginal-owned businesses, non-profits and creatives
Supporting Aboriginal-owned businesses, non-profits and creatives, whether that’s financially or following the lead of their work, is a tangible way that helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to thrive. Consider setting up a regular donation to an Aboriginal-led non-profit, or look for Aboriginal-owned businesses first whenever you need to buy something new.
But be mindful, as the Clothing the Gaps blog notes:
“purchasing from Aboriginal brands, businesses and wearing Indigenous designs alone is surface-level allyship. There needs to be more commitment than just buying from Aboriginal brands and businesses.”
Aboriginal-led non-profits and projects
- Young people: Koorie Youth Council (KYC)
- Young people: Strong Brother, Strong Sister
- Climate justice: SEED Mob
- Support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families whose loved ones have died in custody: Dhadjowa Foundation
- Stolen Generations survivors: Healing Foundation
- Justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: ANTaR
- Health and advocacy: Aboriginal Health Justice Project
- Indigenous LGBTIQA+ suicide prevention: Black Rainbow
- LGBTIQA+: Koorie Pride Victoria
- Disability: First People’s Disability Network
- STEM: Deadly Science
- Art: Baluk Arts
- BNYM Indigenous Designs
- Charlotte Allingham (Wiradjuri and Ngiyampaa)
- Aretha Brown (Gumbaynggirr)
- Racheal Sarra (Goreng Goreng)
- Maddy Connors (Yorta Yorta – Wolithica, Dja Dja Wurrung, Gamilaroi) – Yarli Creative
- Ryhia Dank (Gudanji/Wakaja) – Nadurna
- Karissa Undy (Sicilian and Wiradjuri woman) – KPU Creative
- Zowie Baumgart (Kombumerri & Butchulla)
Use your platforms to spread the word and show solidarity
Especially in the pandemic, using your platforms and networks can be a meaningful way to build ongoing support. Some examples can include:
- Sharing the words and work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- Starting conversations with people in your own life
- Promoting Aboriginal-owned businesses and Aboriginal-led organisations
- Sharing fundraisers, petitions, and other action items, and encouraging others to get involved
- Celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s successes and joy.
Pay attention to not using your platforms in just a tokenistic way, which is called performative allyship. This makes the action about you, when it should always be about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
- Think honestly about what you’re posting before you post it – is it to feel like you’re participating? What will be the impact of the post?
- Be conscious of how you share sensitive or upsetting content. For example, how it might feel for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people to see it? What will non-Indigenous people think is okay if they see you posting it, especially out of context?
Learn more about stepping up from tokenism and taking genuine action in the article Where do you fit? Tokenistic, ally – or accomplice? by Summer May Finlay (Yorta Yorta).