May 1 was a day of international solidarity for Australian Aborigines, many whom are in danger of being driven off their ancestral lands and out of communities. (Video report here.) Recent months have seen heightened activism in Australia concerning this issue. Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who's dismissed ancient Indigenous ways as “a lifestyle choice,” has expressed concern over the expense of providing electricity and water to Aboriginal communities.
Over 85 demonstrations were held across Australia on Friday. In Los Angeles, a rally was held at Echo Park Lake(1). More than 25 people attended in the middle of the day. Some passersby and people already sitting on the grass took interest in the speakers.
“I'm so absolutely inspired to see all of you here so far from home,” said Jess Harlen, a co-organizer of the event(2), who calls Australia home and New Zealand her ancestral land.
“Today we are on Tongva land, and we pay our respects to the Tongva people and thank you for your support today in developing global support for all Indigenous people.
“Aboriginal people are currently facing the threats of the closure of the 150 indigenous communities. These communities are in Western Australia and predominately throughout the Kimberlies, which is a very dear, rich, and sacred land to Aboriginal culture.
“. . . Basic necessities such as running water, electricity to thousands of homes of Aboriginal people are at the very real threat of being cut off, and the first communities have been cut off. This is not just an idea—it's already a reality. [T]he intrinsic human right of Aboriginal people to live on Aboriginal land is under threat again and again.
“In 2009 the Commonwealth of Australia [endorsed] the United Nations human rights law, and they continue to violate those laws. So this is a human rights issue that is of concern to all human beings, and we need to be holding the Australian government accountable.
“I'm unable to speak on behalf of Aboriginal people, but I speak from several perspectives that hopefully many of us can relate to, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. I speak from the perspective of a humanitarian as this is a human rights issue.
“. . . It is easy for me to understand how important it is to Indigenous people to be connected to their land, and I can see that sometimes it is harder for non-Indigenous people to be able to open their minds to that, particularly those in power. But regardless, I think it's actually okay for non-Indigenous people to accept that they might not understand the connection to land. What's not okay, however, is to ignore the voices of those who do know, those who need to be heard. What's not okay is to ignore those in power who are ignoring these voices.”
“I'm not from the Kimberlies, but I feel directly affected in the way my heart aches for the damage that we've begun and the way that my stomach churns at the thought, [and my] mind is occupied by thoughts on how to stop the government from prioritizing money, a temporary venue, over tens of thousands of years of ancient culture.
“The aboriginal people are the custodians of their land and have a responsibility to their ancestors to maintain sovereign ties to their land—which is far deeper than a 'lifestyle choice,' which you're probably aware that the prime minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, so disgracefully described the connection to land.”
Also present was musician Ryan WhiteWolf, who mentioned being fostered by an Indigenous Australian starting when he was six weeks old. “I was raised in two different worlds,” he remarked. “It was amazing to see.” He emphasized the need for cultures to work together as protectors of Mother Earth. He then performed as he did earlier in the day on KPFK's Uprising. (The full segment, including an interview, can be heard here.)
Mayra Gomez, from Kullasuyu, “today known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia,” also spoke. ” . . . We are oppressed peoples, but we are not defeated peoples,” she said. “Indigenous peoples world-wide have demonstrated a tremendous capacity of creativity and resilience. We are still here despite all odds. Communities are still alive, and many continue to grow and hold answers to a healthy, vibrant relationship with the cosmos and light. We see our survival inherently tied to our responsibilities, to our spiritual connections to land and territories. . . . “
She observed that current events in Australia show that the Doctrine of Discovery and Manifest Destiny “are not quaint relics of yesteryear.” “No,” she continued, “they are very present in today's regulations, the policies, the court decisions. . .
“We are still BC—the Best Choice for the land.”
Although mainstream media coverage in Australia is said to be abysmal, various Aussie attendees told me of coverage of this issue by Australian journalist-filmmaker John Pilger and his documentary Utopia, about the overall plight of Australian First People.
(1)originally a marsh where a stream, paved over for Echo Park Avenue, terminated. In the 1860s, the marsh became a human-made reservoir/dam (Ghosts of Echo Park: A Pictorial History by Ron Emler, edited by Susan Borden, page 17) and is now part of L.A.'s storm drain system.
(2)along with Australian Aborigine actress Sandy Greenwood, et al.
Harlen later explained to me how this rally came about. “I went to the first national call to action in Australia (on March 25). I attended the rally in Adelaide. We saw that the second call to action was scheduled for May the first, and I looked at my calendar and realized I was going to be in L.A. So I hit them up (SOS Black Australia) and asked if there was an L.A. Action, and they said “No,” and I said 'How about I put something on?' They said, 'That would be great.' So we just put the word out and got massive support from AIM, the American Indian Movement SoCal branch.”
Other countries with solidarity actions included France, with involvement of Idle No More France, and Finland.
Lydia Ponce of Idle No More Los Angeles and Idle No More Venice described gentrification as “modern-day genocide” “If you do not know your renters rights, find your your renters rights, find a meeting, and get involved. And I promise you, you will learn more in that meeting, and it'll engage you . . .”
As we sat and stood on fake grass, a Kanaka Maoli (Hawaiian) noted that “the number one crop in the United States—well I think we're all sitting on it—is grass. Delicious, isn't it? You could make a really great salad out of this, build a house out of this stuff. It's very useful; it's everywhere. And at least once a week you need a really loud, noisy, the noisiest thing you can find to keep this stuff really short. You don't want it to grow too fast or too high.”