We're kicking off now with our NAIDOC panel discussion to celebrate 50 years of Aboriginal community controlled legal services. We'll be tweeting some of the key comments here. Looking forward to an engaging yarn!
Uncle Lyall Munro Jr tells us that one of the first protests leading to establishment of the ALS was for workers' rights in Wee Waa. The workers came to Sydney to fight for their rights in court and networked with other staunch activists.
Our host Peter Stapleton notes that Aboriginal women have always been involved and played leading roles in the ALS. Aunty Lorraine Wright, one of our panelists, started her journey with us as a manager of the Western (NSW) Aboriginal Legal Service.
Aunty Lorraine filled a temporary 2-week role at the Western Aboriginal Legal Service and ended up working there for 16 years! "Once you get it into your bones, you just can't get it out of you." Now she's Deputy Chair on the Board of the ALS NSW/ACT.
Aunty Lorraine says 2020 has been a challenge at ALS, as at other organisations, due to COVID-19. We had to swing into action straight away to deliver services without risking the spread of the virus - "we still had to be on the ground".
The ALS NSW/ACT is now one united service, but was previously several regional Aboriginal legal services. We formally came together in 2006, but as Aunty Lorraine says, "we were already working together".
We're now hearing from Makayla Reynolds, who began working at the ALS two years ago just after the death in custody of her brother, Nathan. She says that since his passing, she hasn't seen the change that is needed. She calls on Government to give the ALS more funding for change.
Makayla says that with more funding, the ALS would be able to provide better through-care and support to people after their legal matters are concluded - ensuring they continue to be OK and don't get tied up in the system again.
"We need more funding so we can help people once they get out of gaol and help people with civil complaints as well," says Makayla Reynolds.
Barrister Felicity Graham is now speaking about protest rights, particularly in the recent struggle to proceed with #BlackLivesMatter protests during COVID-19. She explains that when a protest is not 'authorised', protesters can be charged for blocking roads etc.
During COVID-19, it's been not just that protesters can't block roads - they can't gather in groups of 20 or more. Yet there are exceptions for sport, entertainment...
"If 10,000 people, 30,000 people can go to the ANZ Stadium to watch a football match, why can't a few hundred people in masks go to the Domain to protest in a COVID-safe way?" - Felicity Graham
Aunty Lorraine Wright says protest is even more important today than it was in the 1970s. "We have more people in gaol, more people being taken away from their families. There are a lot of issues in our community that we need to have wrap-around services for." #NAIDOC2020
Protest can shed light on the issues facing Aboriginal peoples for the broader population, and provide a way for them to come onboard as allies and support us.
Uncle Lyall Munro's first big protest was Charlie Perkins' Freedom Rides - he was just 14. He says that in the 1960s, there was legislated apartheid in Moree. "I saw the results of direct action and that convinced me that protest was the best way to go."
"The Aboriginal Legal Service organised every protest in Sydney in 1972 through to 1979," says Uncle Lyall Munro. He says there was an incredible spirit at the time of visible activism led by young people.
Elders had been protesting and leading activism for years - decades - but the young Aboriginal people of the day brought that spirit into the street, says Uncle Lyall. The public couldn't turn away anymore. "We were prepared to die for what we believed in."
"Isn't the colonisation project to make the colonised unseen?" asks Felicity Graham. "Protest brings people into public spaces to be seen. Protest brings injustices into the public's view to be seen, acknowledged, confronted by those who don't live that reality every day." 🔥
"The rights to gather together, share ideas... these are critical to protecting other rights," says Felicity Graham. Our right to protest is "the foundation upon which all our other rights are protected".
Aunty Lorraine says we should be setting priorities and designing programs from the ground-up. Governments shouldn't have a one-size-fits-all approach.
"We've already achieved such great things, but if we had more funding and support from governments we could achieve much more," says Makayla Reynolds. She wants to see ALS funded to provide assistance in civil law (right now we mostly practice criminal law + care & protection).
Our CEO Karly Warner echoes Makayla's words that we would love to expand our work in children's care and protection, family law, and other aspects of civil law. Here's hoping the ALS can grow significantly over the next 50 years.
We are wrapping up now on a note about the importance of community control - it must be central to everything we do. Thank you to those who tuned in today, and apologies for the occasional tech difficulties! We hope you'll join us for further 50th anniversary events next year.

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