The following Moondani Balluk statement was endorsed by Professor Peter Dawkins, Vice Chancellor of Victoria University, who wrote that "This statement aims to give confidence to our commitment to transforming people’s lives; to sharing Aboriginal knowledge; to connecting our institution and people to Aboriginal culture in meaningful ways; and finally to build and grow our relationships with the Aboriginal community in the west of Melbourne." (Professor Peter Dawkins, email 5/6/2020)
While the spaces of violence on Aboriginal land, culture and people continues to impact our bodies and spirits in our everyday lives and through our work, the thoughts of Moondani Balluk staff are with the families and extended families of the over 400 Aboriginal people who have died in custody. Since the release of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, a report that contained 339 recommendations on concrete ways to halt any more deaths, the impossibility of systemic change in racist acts on Aboriginal people is draining hope and aspiration for many in our communities. Our thoughts are with these families as our screens are flooded with events in the USA, and we know deeply that the grief and trauma of losing a family member in custody is unbearable.
Staff at Moondani Balluk understand that we will continue our work in the University’s digital classrooms to share our Aboriginal standpoints and perspectives through our Aboriginal teaching content. Our academic staff are often confronted by VU’s enrolled students who have not experienced Aboriginal history through our schools systems. The challenges of this are expressed by students as feelings of shame, guilt, or ignorance and these have been heightened by the current global events. This work, coupled with our own lived experiences of systemic racism, our family connections to those who have died in custody, become even more burdensome when laden with such confrontations and challenges. We understand full well the impact of our knowledge on our students, on our colleagues, but we also carry the load and our cultural safety is always at risk. We need staff and students at VU to understand this load.
The University seeks to work collaboratively with us through such strategies as Bathelmun Yalingwa, the Yannoneit Employment Strategy and related policies. Changes in recent times in University structures have seen a lifting of Aboriginal matters to Senior Executive level, and this is a welcome outcome and one that will bring change; over time. Our internal relationships are hard fought and require vigilance, gratitude and patience; they are however fragile, just like the fragility of the social contract between white and black – here in Australia and overseas.
The sheer negligence of acts of violence in societal structures and historical oppression against black bodies, our land and culture is a direct result of systemic racism and white fragility. It is not just for Moondani Balluk staff to teach, share our stories, stand tall, and make change and protest. This is a space for our University colleagues to show up, be counted, to educate themselves and to take action themselves against systemic racism and speak back against acts of violence on black bodies.
Please let us all know and remember the Aboriginal people who have died in custody, at the hands of Australian police. Please join in solidarity to decolonise our practices and systems so that our Aboriginal families, children and youth can feel safe in engaging in white spaces. Please show respect to our Country, our Culture, and understand the ongoing impact of dispossession and dispersal on our bodies and spirits.