Stand Up, But Stand Behind — Why Non-Indigenous Australian Feminists Need To Stand Behind Their Indigenous Sisters

Aboriginal women are powerful. We are strong. We are standing proud, up front, to defend our rights and call for justice.

Aboriginal women have always known our place in our communities, in societies and in activism. It is time for non-Indigenous activists, and feminists especially, to understand not only our struggle, but also our persistent survival. So, let me take you on a brief journey of Aboriginal women’s activism.

Women have been the cornerstone of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures since the beginning. Our Mother earth provides us with life, and we care for her as she cares for us. She is the basis for all that is living: a strong, ever-loving, wise Mother that we Aboriginal women feel pulsing through us, giving us strength. The Aboriginal matriarchy exemplifies the inherent value of our women, to be at least equal to our men. Since our Dreaming, Aboriginal women have played a crucial role in our cultures, our storytelling, and in our survival.

When white men came and claimed what is ours, Aboriginal women were stripped of their autonomy and their leadership status in their communities. Assimilation came at the expense of Blak women’s bodies. Dispossession of land hit our women hard, as the foundation of families was displaced. But the strength and courage of our women never wavered, with some learning English and trading with white men for food and goods for their families.

Aboriginal women were forced to the bottom of a new societal hierarchy — a place that was foreign to them. These Aboriginal women stood up tall and protested against the society that walked over them during a time where they were treated as nothing.

Since colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have been at the frontlines, fighting for the rights of first peoples in this country. And our women are those that are most disadvantaged by this society: from women forced to live as domestics, to children being forcibly removed with the Stolen Generations. Aboriginal women feel the effects of this white, patriarchal Crown the deepest.

Not only did Aboriginal women have to fight against a white, western, patriarchal colonial force, but after some time they also had to fight against their own men, who had begun to see women as lesser, forgetting their history and the stories of matriarchs.

Aboriginal men and women alike fought at the front for the Referendum, for government recognition and real changes to the betterment of Aboriginal lives. But Blak women have led the fight for land rights, housing and health equity, and for the lives of their children and communities.

And we are still out there fighting against forced closures of Aboriginal communities, against the high incarceration rates of our young people, against deaths in custody, against climate change and mining companies, and for a treaty and constitutional recognition. The emotional labour that comes with fighting for our rights is certainly not unknown to Aboriginal women. But regardless of the toll of the burden, we continue to rise and fight for all our rights, as a people who know how to survive.

So, I tell non-Indigenous people that you need to remember whose lands you are on. Whose histories and stories are embedded in this rock we live on. The dust carries our stories and the winds whisper of our ancestors who will forever be remembered for their strength and beauty. Non-Indigenous people must acknowledge the history of this land.

And to be perfectly clear: I am speaking to other people of colour here as well.

I have been in situations where people of colour talk about racism and the injustices committed against their people, but then fail to listen to our stories of racism and injustice. I have been in a room full of young students, where the people of colour among them have called for white feminists to step back and listen, while failing to deliver an Acknowledgement of Country, and continually raising their voices over ours.

I need other people of colour to step back and listen to my people — because we are out here dying. Our stories of racism and injustice are still being written.

I will always be there for people of colour, and I will fight for their space in feminism; I will continue to call for white feminists to listen to you, and to understand the intersections of race and gender amongst so many considerations.

But in return, I ask that you put first nations people first. Together we can stand against white supremacy.

And to all non-Indigenous feminists:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should not be an afterthought. We must be the first thought. If your feminism doesn’t prioritise the first people of the country you are on, your feminism isn’t good enough.