Why we stand with #BlackLivesMatter and the fight to stop Black deaths in custody

As #BlackLivesMatter protests and calls for justice reverberate around the world, we cannot turn away from the reality here in Australia. Since the Royal Commission in 1991, 437 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody.

As organisers, we’ve invited everyone in the #StopAdani movement to join us in calling for justice for First Nations communities in Australia and Black communities across the US who are fighting for their lives against systemic violence and discrimination.

Many of you have joined us, but many have also asked what our fight to stop Adani has to do with the fight to stop Black deaths in custody.

We often answer that there is no climate justice without justice for First Nations people—but what does that actually mean? 

1. First Nations people are on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction 

The mining sector’s systematic violation of Indigenous rights and destruction of land and cultural heritage has made headlines lately, with Rio Tinto’s unapologetic destruction of a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal rock shelter sacred to the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura People and the Gomeroi people’s fight to stop Shenhua’s coal mine destroying their cultural heritage. 

The Wangan and Jagalingou people have said NO to Adani’s destructive coal mine on their ancestral lands for almost 10 years. If it goes ahead, Adani’s mine will have devastating impacts on Wangan and Jagalingou land rights, ancestral lands and waters, totemic plants and animals, and their environmental and cultural heritage. 

Adani have gone to despicable lengths to silence Wangan and Jagalingou people and destroy their cultural heritage, bankrupting Traditional Owner Adrian Burragubba, and obtaining a court order barring Traditional Owners from returning to their own country.

And it’s no accident that mining rights trump First Nations land rights in Australia. In fact, the Minerals Council of Australia was formed to run coordinated media and political campaigns to undermine land rights and protect their member’s ability to profit from destroying Aboriginal land. And now they’re using the same dirty tactics to undermine climate action. 

2. First Nations people are on the frontlines of the climate crisis

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory fear their communities will become unlivable due to extreme heat and drought caused by climate change. Communities, already under-resourced by governments, are running out of water and poor quality housing can't be cooled effectively. 

Aboriginal people were also disproportionately impacted by the devastating climate change fuelled bushfires of 2019/20. One in eight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia were directly impacted, and the Aboriginal population in areas hit by bushfires was 4.6%, double the population in the affected states as a whole.

The devastating bushfires also irrevocably damaged sacred sites and culturally significant areas that connect First Nations peoples to country, and are estimated to have destroyed thousands of sacred rock sites as well as carved trees significant to First Nations people. 

3. For First Nations people, injustice is an interconnected, lived experience

First Nations people in Australia are the most incarcerated people on earth and they are dying at the hands of our justice system. More than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991. 

But what do land rights and climate change impacts have to do with Black deaths in custody? For First Nations people, these injustices are lived day-to-day and are inextricably linked—they can’t be separated out into neat issues. 

Australia’s justice system is built on racism and white supremacy, continuing the dispossession that First Nations people have been experiencing since colonisation—these are the same systems that allow mining companies to take and destroy Aboriginal land, fuelling the very climate crisis that could see remote communities further torn apart.

To see this in practice, look no further than Adani’s treatment of Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owner Adrian Burragubba—not only are his family's ancestral lands at risk of destruction by Adani’s mine, he now faces jail simply for returning to his own country. 

4. Climate justice cannot be separated from other struggles for justice

We’re fighting to stop Adani’s coal mine because we are fighting for a world where First Nations peoples lives, land rights and cultural heritage are respected and where our precious water, climate and reef are protected for everyone.

The climate crisis is being fuelled by fossil fuel billionaires and their backers in government, yet the impacts hit hardest for those already experiencing injustice and marginalisation, including First Nations people. 

Fighting for climate justice means recognising this core injustice and standing with First Nations people to redress it—this means standing in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people against systemic racism every day, not just when it fits our issue.

Here’s what you can do to stand in solidarity with First Nations people

These are some of the actions Indigenous leaders and organisations have asked allies and supporters to undertake.

Donate to campaigns from families still seeking justice for loved ones who died in police custody

Turn up! The following Stop Black Deaths in Custody events are happening this weekend

If you choose to attend, please follow local COVID-19 restrictions and consider your own health and the protection of others. The Conversation has published some tips on how to be safer while protesting during a pandemic.

Educate yourself and take ongoing action for system change

The Australian Youth Climate Coalition has compiled this excellent resource with links to further reading and ideas for taking action. 

You can also make a regular donation to Indigenous-led organisations working for First Nations justice and climate justice.