Our mother Tanya Louise Day was a beautiful proud Aboriginal woman, who prided herself on many things from her cooking, high heels and fashion sense, but her most treasured was being a grandmother of eight and a mother of five. She was and will be remembered for her love, strength and resilience.
On December 5, 2017 our mother was racially profiled and arrested for public drunkenness after she fell asleep on a V/Line train. She died 17 days later after falling and hitting her head in a police cell causing a traumatic brain bleed that claimed her life. This is the reason why I’m speaking with you all today and why I’ve devoted my life to advocating for other families who’ve experienced similar heartache.
This is a story that is much too familiar for hundreds of Aboriginal families who’ve had a loved one die in police custody.
In the last 30 years, at least 470 Aboriginal people like our mum have died in custody, yet no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible. The legal system is so entrenched with systemic racism that Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people in the world, yet when one of our loved ones dies in the care of police officers, prison guards or medical officers, nobody is held accountable.
This April marks the 30th anniversary into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission reviewed 99 black deaths in custody and made 339 recommendations.
Despite governments telling us otherwise, we know that few of those recommendations have not been fully implemented. Most of the recommendations that have been actioned have subsequently been defunded or remain extremely under resourced with limited Aboriginal governance. We have families today experiencing the same trauma that prompted the royal commission.
An Aboriginal death in custody sends a heartbreaking ripple effect through families, communities and generations to come. It’s a crippling moment in life where you are uncertain of what’s occurred, what’s to happen next and what the future holds for your loved ones and the call for justice.
The Dhadjowa Foundation’s purpose is to provide a grassroots culturally safe meeting place for Aboriginal families after losing a loved one in custody. It is a co-ordinated approach to support families and the many different layers as they embark on their fight for justice. Having a dedicated foundation that also focuses on self-determination is essential to the ongoing advocacy for Aboriginal deaths in custody. The foundation will focus on financial support, coronial and court proceeding co-ordination, media training and campaign strategy building to name a few.
But without the support of the philanthropy sector its unlikely to achieve the goals that have been set. Successive governments are a part of the rising death toll of Aboriginal deaths in custody, which is why it’s imperative they play no part in funding advocacy work or organisations such as the Dhadjowa Foundation.
We’ve seen first- hand from my family’s experience that family-led advocacy is what needs to happen to see effective change. Lived experience cannot be bought, it cannot be duplicated and can only be attained by family members. Last week the Victorian Parliament passed legislation that decriminalised public drunkenness and legislated for a public health response to take its place. A recommendation that is 30 years overdue and too late for our mother. But together as a family and with our community support, we were able to make this historic legislative change.
Our family’s stories may be different, but the end goal is always the same: we want justice, the truth, and accountability. Together we are going to build pressure on decision makers to get the systemic change we need, so that there are no more black deaths in custody. We want police to stop investigating police, we want public acknowledgement for the families, we want prevention, Aboriginal-led solutions, we want laws abolished where they are unfair, we want an end to racism in the justice system. The solutions are all there, but it’s time to get real action, and this needs to be led by the people most affected and funded by those who are in the position to do so.
Philanthropy must acknowledge what’s happening around the world to our First Nations people.
We are dying, being incarcerated, and having our children removed at rising numbers with no acknowledgement from our governments. Individuals must educate themselves on our change makers, community issues and needs to see where they can support independently away from governments in power. They must fund Indigenous leadership on issues of First Nations’ Justice.
A great advocate and support has been the Australian Communities Foundation Impact Fund, where we were able to secure $150,000 for the establishment of The Dhadjowa Foundation, a massive achievement for our foundation, but this is only the tip of the iceberg when we have hundreds of families who’ve lost a loved one in custody and the process being extremely gruelling and financially draining.
This movement is not over until there is justice for every single family. Together, this is going to lead to huge change for our communities, for generations to come. I don’t want my kids to lose another family member. This is about our lives and it’s about self-determination. With your help, we can lead this change, for all of us.
With your help, we can lead this change, for all of us.
Founder of The Dhadjowa Foundation
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