The date marks the first meeting in 1982 of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, and empowers First Nations communities to advocate for the protection and promotion of their rights. Since this year has been overshadowed by the threat of natural disaster and COVID-19, we would like to recognise and celebrate the resilience demonstrated by our own First Nations students within the Sydney Law School community.
There is no doubt that the year of 2020 has impacted everyone in different ways. As Indigenous communities were already stretched thin due to the bushfires, and the reality of lockdown began to set in, First Nations' students were faced with many difficult decisions. Initially, I was quickly forced to decide whether to remain at my on-campus residence in absolute isolation, far away from family and community, or to return home at some economic expense and risk of community infection. I know many of my peers face the same problem and some even faced dire economic situations if they attempted to return home.
The inevitable detachment from face-to-face learning presented new challenges for introverts and extroverts alike. I was born with significant hearing disability (c. 35% remaining), which meant that I struggled to watch lectures and tutorials online without the same opportunity to lip-read. I am sure many of you can relate to the discrepancies between what is written on a PowerPoint slide and what is actually said aloud. Thankfully, the existence of rewind and playback speed features mitigated what could have been a disastrous online learning experience. To be honest, I definitely struggled to find the motivation to organise my time effectively and be productive without face-to-face classes and peer study groups. However, the ability to connect with family and friends back home, and my renewed dedication to fitness, empowered me to stick to a schedule and effectively follow a routine.
My final take-away from the past few months is the need to stay flexible and to be prepared for uncertain circumstances. Reaching out to support networks is also more important than ever. We should remember that even if we are socially distanced during the pandemic, none of us are alone.
I found it difficult to study during my Semester 1 STUVAC and exam period as it coincided with the rise of the Black Lives Matter Movement. The dialogue around justice for First Nations people has been happening for over 200 years, however it took the death of George Floyd for many Australians to speak up. I struggled in revising criminal procedures like police powers whilst thinking about how these laws have been constantly failing to protect our people’s lives. However, seeing Australia raise awareness around police brutality and black deaths in custody gave me more hope that we will one day create change. With the current state of the world, things have dramatically changed as all our studies are now online and there has been an obvious financial stress on everyone. My scholarship has definitely assisted me with these changes and financial stresses which I am so very thankful for. As I am from Far North Queensland, Cairns, I also struggled with deciding between relocating back home or staying on campus. In the end, I decided to stay on campus due to financial reasons. To overcome COVID-19 barriers, I tried to maintain a positive outlook and think about how we are all in this together.
With the risk of Covid-19 I decided to return home to Western Australia, this was a great opportunity to spend time on my mothers' country, which I haven't been able to do since commencing my studies.
During this time I was able to see how the foundations of my culture kept me strong. I developed greater connections with non human beings and wanted others to understand these relationships and their value. I created a short series on Instagram to explain concepts in Nyikina that have no comparable translation in English. These words explain the relationships each of us have with time, country, non-human beings, family and the bio-region in which we are dependent on. It is a framework for identity, wellbeing and sustainability for all.
Australia is very lucky, we have inherited a rich and diverse landscape without population density. For those that have accessed beaches, parks or a family farm during this time we have seen our value for nature increase, and for those stuck in the city or isolation you have felt the impacts worse. Just remember none of us are alone if you broaden the types of relationships you have, country is everywhere.
Find out more about the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.
Find out more about the Sydney University Student Law Society (SULS), which aims to enrich the law student experience.