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In conversation with Ian Brown, Gamilaraay Next Generation activist

On abolishing ‘Australia Day’, police opposition, and how to support the protest this January 26th.

January 26th has been a day of mourning and resistance for longer than “Australia Day” has been a public holiday. It marks the day Arthur Phillip falsely laid claim to land belonging to the Eora people, beginning the ongoing colonial occupation and brutal oppression of over 500 sovereign Aboriginal nations. 

The 2021 Invasion Day protest — marking 233 years since British invasion — will be held in Djarrbarrgalli (The Domain) at 9:00am. It comes at a particularly critical time for First Nations resistance movements, with the destruction of several sacred sites in the past year, intensified police suppression of protests, and increasing numbers of Indigenous deaths in custody

Honi spoke to Gamilaraay Next Generation activist Ian Brown, who chaired the recent rally demanding a halt to the Santos Narrabri Gas Project. He discussed abolishing “Australia Day,” police opposition, how we can support First Nations movements, and hope for the future.

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Honi Soit: At the press conference on the 18th of January, you emphasised that one of your demands was to abolish ‘Australia Day’ entirely. Why do you think we should abolish rather than just change the date?

Ian Brown: Well, the date in itself is completely a fallacy! If people were going to be realistic about it, they would celebrate on the 28th of April, the real date of the first landing. But even then, there is not a date within the year where atrocities aren’t committed against First Nations people.

So my point of view is that we should abolish the date entirely. Why should we be celebrating the point of contact of the First Fleet arriving? The statistics in relation to First Nations people haven’t been getting any better. If anything, they’re getting worse.

Until we reconcile with that past and with that history, we should abolish the date entirely. And I don’t even like to use that word ‘reconcile,’ because it suggests that we’ve done something wrong. We have nothing to apologise for.

In fact, it was First Nations people who showed the First Fleet where the freshwater sources were, where to find food, and the best fishing spots. If it wasn’t for First Nations people, the economy that evolved here in Australia wouldn’t have ever existed and the First Fleet would have died out of dehydration and starvation.

Honi: Last year, police shut down, or at least attempted to shut down, several Bla(c)k Lives Matter rallies due to public health orders. Have organisers experienced similar opposition towards Tuesday’s protest?

Brown: Well, I personally haven’t been involved in those conversations, but from our organising committee last week, I do know that there was strong opposition from the police against us all congregating in one area. 

The police actually tabled an exemption that we could apply for. We just told them that we’re not going to engage with them at all for this rally. At the end of the day, we’re sovereign people, we called this rally, and our sovereignty was never ceded.

We’re going to go ahead with it and it’s up to them to grant that exemption. It’s not up to us to fill in their paperwork or abide by their rules.

And let’s not forget that it’s our democratic right to protest. We’re actually stepping away from a democracy — everything that our country apparently stands for — when we’re limiting the amount of people that can go to a protest. 

Honi: What are some ways that non-Indigenous people can become more involved in showing solidarity and supporting these movements?

Brown: They could become actively involved! You know, everyone’s on social media these days. Follow local activists that you know or that you may have come across. Be in the know of when there are actions going on. Get amongst our allies and be more present on the street.

Because if we’re not holding our governments accountable for what they do, then who are we if this is not a democracy? The reason why a lot of atrocities have happened is because people have been idle.

And there are so many different units involved in a protest. If you are passionate, write to your local representative. You could apply your skill sets to the movement, whether you’re a tech person or an illustrator. You could even help us put up posters or organise press conferences.

It’s just a matter of being in the know and willing to give up your time. The more people and bodies we have within the movements the better. 

Honi: Next Tuesday’s protest will be building upon not only decades of work by activists, but a lot of momentum gained over the past year. What makes you hopeful for the year ahead?

Brown: What makes me hopeful this year is the current trend that’s been going on in terms of Blak Lives Matter — and that’s B-l-a-k lives, which encompasses all Blak people on an international level. That wasn’t just a trend. Hopefully, everyone that turned up to Blak Lives Matter will turn up to the Invasion Day protest in Djarrbarrgalli.

I can also feel a shift within the cosmos. In December, we went through a transformation stage astronomically, and as First Nations people are astronomy-based, this gives me hope for there to be a better day.

Honi: Do you have any final words for our readers?

Brown: Come along to Djarrbarrgalli. Be down here, be present, stand up and be counted. Get behind the cause, because our sovereignty has never been ceded, and we’re calling for governments to sit down and have those proper engagements with us, acknowledge our history and who our people are. Make sure you abide by the COVID restrictions and hopefully see you all there.

Gamilaraay Next Generation is an activist collective of young Gomeroi/Gamilaroi/Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay people fighting for their rights, to protect their Country, and for future generations. Follow their Facebook page.

The 2021 Sydney Invasion Day Protest will be held at 9am 26 January at Djarrbarrgalli (The Domain). For more information, see the Facebook event. 

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