“We have to carry on the fight”: Hundreds show up to NAIDOC March on Kaurna Yarta to honour and celebrate First Nations-led movements for justice

The 2022 NAIDOC March on Kaurna Yarta coincides with the Family Fun Day for the first time since the pandemic – but, as this year’s theme highlights, First Nations-led calls for justice continue all year round. (Image: Anisha Pillarisetty)

By Anisha Pillarisetty | @nishkinsilk 

On the way to Tarntanyangga (Victoria Square) on July 8, miniature Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags catch the eye across the street – bobbing bright against the grey of the bitumen as children weave through foot traffic. 

The NAIDOC March and Family Fun Day hasn’t officially begun, and Tarntanyangga is already brimming with activity; stalls run along either side, toy whistles punctuate the bustle and dozens more of the flags thread through the crowds. 

Reminiscent of the 2021 march, Kaurna and Narungga Elder Jeffrey Newchurch – who this year won the Premier’s NAIDOC Award for outstanding community achievements – holds the mic up for the children on stage to welcome the crowd; each of their voices joining the next, until the last one is met with laughter and cheering. 

For the first time since the pandemic began, the NAIDOC Family Fun Day, organised by the NAIDOC SA Committee, will follow the march. 

Despite the SA Committee having to cancel NAIDOC events in 2020, and scaling back to just the march in 2021, various other calls for First Nations self-determination have continued. 

Adjunct Professor and CEO of the Lowitja Institute Janine Mohamed reflects on this “proud history” of First Nations-led movements for justice in her 2022 NAIDOC speeches

“NAIDOC Week can’t just be a tick box, where people invite us in for one week of the year, listen, take some notes, and then go back to business as usual,” Mohamed says. 

“We need to celebrate and take pride in our First Nations peoples every day of the week and to examine our role in continuing injustice and inequity.

“And to me, this year’s NAIDOC theme encapsulates this idea.”

This year’s theme is “Get up, stand up, show up” – which, Mohamed says, is a “call to action to non-Indigenous people, to the broader community and to the institutions and organisations that we work with and within”. 

The 2022 march will be Kokatha Elder Joyleen Thomas’ last as chairperson, after nearly two decades on the South Australian NAIDOC committee. 

Those up front turn to look when Thomas says, “Put your hand up Commissioner Dale!”. 

Dale Agius, South Australia’s first Commissioner for First Nations Voice, is one of the many faces among the swell of banners and flags across North Terrace. 

“We want to be sitting and we want to be heard in this place behind us,” Thomas continues. “And we come out like this every year – we have to say to those politicians whether they’re Liberal, Labor, Greens, or whoever they are: we want our voice heard.” 

Agius, who will be consulting with Aboriginal groups to implement the state-based Uluru Statement from the Heart as well as liaising with the Federal Government, says the next twelve months will be busy. 

“I’m going to come out and talk to our mob to see how we talk to this place and get our voices heard,” he says. 

Wirangu, Mirning and Kokatha person Keenan Smith reminds the crowd of the origins of NAIDOC. 

“For those of you who don’t know, NAIDOC week started as a protest in 1938 in NSW, as a Day of Mourning. So, in the spirit of protest, I think we need more voices,” Smith says. 

Just like at the last NAIDOC march – and various protests in between – “always was, always will be Aboriginal land” ripples through the hundreds-strong crowd.

Since receiving the 2021 SA NAIDOC LGBTQIA+ Person of the Year Award, Smith has been petitioning to have this award category included nationally. Victoria is the only other state to recognise it, Smith says. 

“Not only does our First Nations LGBTQIA+ community face discrimination from the wider community, but we also face it within the LGBTQIA+ community,” the petition reads. “We need representation, we need recognition, we need role models, we need our achievements reflected on this platform, and our community deserves to have our efforts and work awarded.”

Speaking at the march, Smith adds: “Anywhere you go in Australia, there’s going to be someone like me. Someone like Belinda, who won the award this year.” 

Belinda McKeown – this year’s NAIDOC LGBTQIA+ Person of the Year – follows Smith onto the steps.

“I am a very proud Kokatha, Wirangu, Kaurna woman who fought for my pride to be able to stand here as the recipient of the NAIDOC Week LGBTQIA+ Person of the Year Award,” McKeown says. “It warms the cockles of my heart.

“I’m here with my son and my family – and all you mob my family because we’re all here believing in the same thing, fighting for the same future.” 

At last year’s march, Kaurna Elder Yvonne Agius – who was awarded the Lord Mayor’s 2021 NAIDOC award – recalled marching down to Parliament House, demanding justice.
“Our Elders fought for all this, what we’ve got around us. We have to carry on the fight,” she said. “We all need to come together again. 
“The police and the way they treat our kids, and the way they treat everybody – it’s not on. We’ve got to stop all this right now.”

Here are the full lists of the 2022 National and South Australian NAIDOC Awards recipients, which includes the Koori Mail

For more insights on NAIDOC Week check out this episode by IndigenousX’s podcast Blak Nation.

As Wakka Wakka woman Bizzi Lavelle writes, there are many ways to show solidarity with Aboriginal-led movements for justice. These include researching issues by listening to and foregrounding Aboriginal voices, following Aboriginal-led media like CAAMA Radio, IndigenousX, Koori Mail, Speaking Out with Larissa Behrendt, and Presence by Amy McQuire, attending rallies, and paying the rent.
Paying the rent can mean regular or one-off donations to Aboriginal-led organisations and initiatives like Black Rainbow, Dhadjowa Foundation, Seed Mob, Anaiwan #LandBack, Wuurn of Kanak, the Institute for Collaborative Race Research, First Nations Homelessness Grassroots Fundraiser, and the grassroots collective Pay the Rent.

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