The Stolenwealth Games

By Tarneen Onus-Williams
No room for racism
Neal Jennings/flickr

Last month the Commonwealth Games (aka “Stolenwealth Games” in my community) began. The Commonwealth Games was previously named the British Empire Games and was founded in 1930.

The Games was a celebration of the British Empire and the countries they had colonised, for example Aotearoa (NZ), Turtle Island (Canada) and so-called Australia. This year, the Stolenwealth Games was held on the Gold Coast in Queensland, which is not the “Queen’s land”, it is Yugambeh country.

It’s been 230 years since the British colonised this continent and like many other Indigenous peoples that experienced British colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are some of the most disadvantaged people in the world. Some Aboriginal people here in so-called Australia live in dire poverty, Aboriginal women are the fastest growing prison population, in WA Aboriginal children make up 90 per cent of population in youth prisons, and Indigenous youth have one of the highest suicide rates in the world. I have only named a few examples of how we’re disadvantaged in this country and, well, if you’re not angry about these stats then I don’t what will upset you.

I can’t help but feel that the existence of Aboriginal people, regardless of whether we’re performing for the colony or protesting the colony, is unwanted.

The Stolenwealth Games have rightly prompted discussions about Indigenous repression and discrimination. Indigenous activists from across the country rallied at “Camp Freedom” on the Gold Coast earlier this month to protest the Games. Even young people and children were at the camp too.

Protest organisers Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) published live videos of the protest on their Facebook page. I saw that people were commenting, “Why are they protesting sports? Sport is played all the time.” But we are not protesting the sports; we are protesting the British empire, stolen land, colonisation and genocide.

On the night of the Stolenwealth Games Opening Ceremony, three young Aboriginal activists from WAR, Ruby Wharton, Meg Rodaughan and Dylan Voller, were arrested while there were trying to gain entry to Carrara Stadium, without tickets, as an act of protest. The ceremony itself sought to highlight Indigenous history and culture, and had Aboriginal people performing. The disparity between two groups of Aboriginal people was stark: one performing and being complicit in their own oppression, while the other group denouncing the Games and were who victims of police brutality as a result.

Reading the commentary from Pauline Hanson and Alan Jones that the Opening Ceremony was “too Aboriginal”, I can’t help but feel that the existence of Aboriginal people, regardless of whether we’re performing for the colony or protesting the colony, is unwanted.

The perfect example at the Stolenwealth Games was how the Queensland police harassed people from Camp Freedom, following them everywhere they went. Whenever they’d leave the camp in a car, the police would be right behind them. In the final few days of the games Ruby Wharton and Dylan Voller, who survived detention in Don Dale, were arrested while driving to the shops. They were not participating in a protest at the time, yet both of them got remanded on Friday 13th April and were released on bail on the following Monday because, according to the police, they violated their bail conditions from their first arrest on opening night, which stated they were not allowed to enter the “event zone”.

There was also the video of Queensland police dragging a disabled woman across the cement and stomping on her – she ended up hospitalised. The police’s violence towards young, black and disabled bodies sent a message: we can control you and we can assert our power over you and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Here in so-called Australia it is legal to protest, but not if you’re black – only if you’re white and on strike against Carlton & United Breweries then you’re a national hero.

The harassment didn’t stop there. The Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services were sent in, on the accusation that Camp Freedom was neglecting children and breaching health and safety regulations – echoing what white Australians did to the stolen generations and their families. Camp Freedom had a permit for their protest and here in so-called Australia it is legal to protest, but not if you’re black – only if you’re white and on strike against Carlton & United Breweries then you’re a national hero.

The oppression of the Camp Freedom protest was horrific and not allowing Aboriginal people to protest, or even just exist on their land, shows that the Queensland police and the government felt justified in using excessive force against black people who were trying to seek justice.

Camp Freedom should not have been met with violence for trying to show the world that in Australia not everyone gets a fair go. We shouldn’t be celebrating stolen land and wealth made from our blood shed. The world saw Emma Gonzalez’s speech against gun violence in America. But the arrests of young activists Dylan and Ruby barely got mentioned in the Australian media. The Stolenwealth Games needs to be protested, not just in so-called Australia but across the whole Commonwealth. Because there’s nothing to celebrate when there’s stolen wealth.

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