While most of the country's citizens marked Australia Day with barbecues and beer, on January 26 a large group of protesters gathered on the steps of the nation's parliamentary buildings to mourn the continents colonization by whites. There were several protests in Melbourne but one of the rowdiest came from the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, or WAR for short.
Launched before the G20 summit last November, WAR is a coalition of "young Aboriginal people committed to the cause of decolonization and Aboriginal Nationalism," as stated in its manifesto. Their #Genocidal20 protests last year saw 5,000 people marching through the streets of Brisbane before burning half a dozen Australian flags. We caught up with two of their members yesterday to ask about their provocative approach.
Meriki Onus,27, of the Gunditjmara and Gunnai tribes is a co-founder of WAR.
VICE: WAR is a powerful name. Can you tell me why you chose it? Meriki: It's no accident. We are Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance. Without resistance the white man succeeds in taking our land and country so our purpose is not to attack but defend and protect. We want to revive the warrior spirit in our people by facilitating a culture of resistance.
Can you explain how the group came about?
My grandmother alerted me to the amazing work that my co-founders were doing up north, primarily in Queensland. We got in touch, bonded, and WAR was born. Then we traveled to Canada together last August where we met like-minded groups. It was so inspiring that we came home and WAR launched before the G20 summit.
Something I'm wondering is how WAR is different from other activist groups. After all, this isn't a brand new movement.
Yes but Australian militant Aboriginal activism has been dormant since the 70s. The 1990s were dire in terms of organizations for and by black Australians. So we're here to change that. And unlike other groups we're not here to dance with other existing enslaving power structures. We are young and ready to fight for everything our ancestors had taken from them.
Okay so what does fighting look like? What is WAR's mission?
Decolonization. We want to inform our people and inspire them, particularly our youth, to take action in the anti-colonial struggle, because that's the only way. Decolonization encompasses all aspects of life. It's the food you eat, it's the things you buy. Food and health are high on our agenda, but we're also helping our own communities to learn their languages, their dances, the traditions. We want people to study and be informed of their true history.
How do you feel about indigenous leaders who cooperate with our government?
I don't think it's helpful, but I'm not interested in naming names because we share a solidarity as Aboriginal Australians. I think these persons tend to be used as puppets by the white man. You know nothing really changes except they can say, Look we have this black person at the table, oh look how progressive we are .
There are lots of Australian flags around us. How do you feel when you see that flag?
It's extremely painful. The range of emotions is difficult to express when I see these smiling faces waving at that flag on this day. Today my people feel as though we're at a funeral. I can't understand the celebration. It will always be Invasion Day: the day we adopted an imported Western cultural norm that's not right for Australia.
Who are your protest heroes?
Pearl Gibbs and Malcolm X. We draw a lot of inspiration from these two, particularly for our publication Black Nations Rising.
How does Malcolm X influence WAR?
Mostly in the way we're made up entirely of young Aboriginal people. X said even the best white members of black organizations would slow the discovery of what we need to for our ourselves. Also our magazine is modeled on the the Black Panther Party's Intercommunal News Service.
Does it feel like an important moment for Indigenous youth in 2015?
Yes we're coming to together, we're reclaiming what is ours and we're not being polite. The members of WAR are all under 30. Our youngest members are in their late teens and we are fortunate to have the internet as tool not only to connect and support but to draw attention to the cause, both in Australia and internationally.
Artist Kai Clancy, 19, is of the Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli nations.
I heard you speak earlier today. Tell me about the experience.
Kai Clancy: Yes, I get very emotional, especially today. How can I not? I feel there is a duty to my family and ancestors and all our mob. We must protect our land and our sovereignty to move forwards, for our culture to not only survive but thrive.
And I heard you just moved to Melbourne from Brisbane, particularly to protest?
Yeah all the blackfellas [indigenous Australians] were getting on the bus to Melbourne. I'd just finished uni, a political science major, so I thought why not come down? It's worked out well. WAR are having their first national meeting here at the end of the month along with many decolonization panels and I've recently started working at AIDS Victoria. My boss and colleagues are here today. They're holding that banner over there.
Yes, you're also an activist for indigenous transgender rights?
Yeah I'm transgender. We call ourselves Brotherboys. So yes queer and transgender rights and feminism are also all things I'm passionate about.
Who are your activist heroes and role models?
Troy Clancy, my dad. He is everything I aspire to be but I also look to persons in my community. Uncle Dean (Ednason) is a very personal role model as he is an elder Brotherboy.
Does it feel like it's an important moment for Indigenous youth in 2015?
Yes, our time is now.
So what would you say to Prime Minister Tony Abbott today?
Get out! I can't understand his obsession with the Queen and the monarch. What is it about this woman that enthralls you so, Tony?
Words and images by Courtney DeWitt. Follow her on Twitter.