CW: Racism, violence
Source: Johan Mouchet, Unsplash.
26 January is a painful day for mob. It is Invasion Day, Survival Day, a Day of Mourning. It marks the beginning of the devastating colonisation and genocide that has and continues to occur in this country, yet it continues to be officially celebrated as ‘Australia’ day by way of a public holiday.
26 January is also a day where many immigrants continue to receive their Australian citizenship. This year alone, 19,000 people took part in citizenship ceremonies across the country, some of which have struggled to gain citizenship and have fled from violence and colonisation elsewhere. As wading through bureaucracy to reach citizenship can take years, making it to the other end is often hard-won.
However, if we reap the benefits of being on stolen land while neglecting the suffering of First Nations people, we remain complicit to the British colonial project.
I am a Japanese immigrant on stolen Wurundjeri land, who grew up in a linguistically diverse household and became an ‘Australian’ citizen 4 years ago. As an ally acknowledging First Nations struggle, this reflective piece does not seek to diminish or take space over First Nations voices, as they hold all priority. The objective of this piece is to meditate on positionality, the experience of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) communities on Invasion Day, and the responsibilities we have on stolen land.
“if we reap the benefits of being on stolen land while neglecting the suffering of First Nations people, we remain complicit to the British colonial project.”
When I was growing up, 26 January was not met with merriment or protest by my family. It was met with indifference. As Japanese citizens who landed here knowing absolutely nobody, my parents were not interested in engaging with romanticised tropes of ‘Australiana’ some buy into on 26 January. They also had a lot of learning to do about the colonial history of this land, the dispossession of First Nations people, and the politics surrounding this date. If anything, they didn’t perceive 26 January as a day to go out and have a BBQ, but as a mandated day off that didn’t resonate with them.
Indifference, however, is also a position of complicity. As Goenpul woman, academic and Indigenous feminist Aileen Moreton-Robinson writes in her 2015 book The White Possessive: Property, Power and Indigenous Sovereignty, “In the Australian context, the sense of belonging, home, and place enjoyed by the non-Indigenous subject—colonizer/migrant— is based on the dispossession of the original owners of the land and the denial of our rights under international customary law.”
Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson, source: https://www.rmit.edu.au/news/all-news/2020/jun/aileen-moreton-robinson.
Where indifference exists, we must also recognise its context. For instance, Asian immigrants in Australia have continually found themselves amidst rhetoric of ‘Yellow Peril’ and have been positioned as a cause of “danger”. They have encountered their own struggles, as this is after all a colonial outpost founded on racism. Decades after the White Australia Policy came to an end in 1973, the rise of anti-Asian hate in Australia and other Western countries due to misinformation around COVID shows us that discriminatory speech can be conveniently repurposed at any time.
But this doesn’t necessarily let us off the hook in terms of allyship with First Nations resistance — to live, work, and play on stolen land comes with a responsibility.
While migrants undeniably experience racism in this country, unfortunately this hasn’t stopped members of our communities from holding racist attitudes towards First Nations people. We need to reflect on our positionality as migrant-settlers on stolen land, acknowledge our privileges, and take active steps to be anti-racist.
“like most that went through the Australian schooling system, I was handed a woefully whitewashed version of our colonial past and present.”
As ‘newcomers’ on this land, we have a responsibility to understand its violent history, which continues to this day — the stolen generations, deaths in custody, and the over-policing of First Nations people show us that colonisation is well and truly alive. The truth of our colonial past and present may not come easily — like most that went through the Australian schooling system, I was handed a woefully whitewashed version of so-called ‘Australian history’. As we are often denied the truth within this institutional framework, we have a responsibility to self-educate and go beyond the curriculum. For myself, this learning has come from listening to First Nations leaders and educators, engaging with the hard work of First Nations led organisations, and following the fight of First Nations activists. And this process of learning is ongoing.
Alongside listening and learning from mob, we have a social responsibility to remedy past and present harm and injustice by taking action. For allies, taking action can involve supporting First Nations-led initiatives, organisations, and events. It means having those difficult conversations with family, friends and colleagues to challenge harmful views among our networks. For those with the financial capacity, it means paying the rent. Being a good Indigenous ally is vital in raising the profile of issues affecting First Nations people, as Yorta Yorta woman Summer May Finlay explains.
Our responsibility to listen, learn, and act is especially pertinent this year as conversations about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament take place. The Voice, or Makarrata, comes from The Uluru Statement from the Heart, which is not a top-down proposal but a community-led call led by Alyawarre woman Pat Anderson AO and Cobble Cobble Professor Megan Davies to enshrine a First Nations Voice in the constitution. And in recognition of access, the statement has been translated into more than 20 Aboriginal languages and 60 languages for CALD communities.
“Our responsibility to listen, learn, and act is especially pertinent this year as conversations about the Indigenous Voice to Parliament take place.”
Invasion Day rallies this year saw division in terms of the Voice, with some rallies marching for ‘Treaty before Voice’ and calling for an overhaul of colonial structures that have failed First Nations people again and again. Indigenous supporters of the Voice such as Nira illim bulluk man Marcus Stewart felt alienated by this call, expressing “I can’t attend an Invasion Day rally that seeks to sabotage an Indigenous voice to parliament”.
For allies, arguments around the Voice have left many confused, and CALD communities might struggle to grapple with the emerging discourse. While arguments such as those made at the Naarm rally make a radical call to decolonise our government and institutions, participants are uncertain as to what this means when there is only a clear-cut ‘yes’ or ‘no’ option in the referendum. The media now holds a special responsibility to accurately relate information about the Voice to the public, and I hope that measures will be taken to keep CALD communities informed too.
If the right opportunities are offered to listen to First Nations voices, immigrants and those of the diaspora will listen with empathy.
MAKI MORITA (SHE/THEY)
As the current editor of Rosie, Maki is passionate about elevating young voices.
Maki is also working on her upcoming season of Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise (Theatre Works, March-April 2023). They are a 2022 Wheeler Centre Playwright Hot Desk Fellow and have appeared in events including National Young Writers Festival and Feminist Book Week.