First Peoples and Diasporic Communities Implications for Transnational Solidarity

My involvement in solidarity work across several intersecting communities is a natural extension of my identity. As a racialized person, I have been profoundly impacted by how racism operates in so-called “Australia”. First and foremost, I am an Aboriginal woman who is dispossessed of her land through the deployment of racism. Second, I am a Chinese-Malaysian woman whose mother was able to pass through Australia’s constructed borders in the late 1960s, and is therefore viewed as a threat to White Australia. Third, I am a Muslim convert, automatically racialized as a foreigner threatening to “take over” White Australia’s “way of life”, despite my ties to the country through thousands of generations. My understanding of how race operates within Australia to maintain a White nation through dispossession and racialized border enforcement is foundational to how I have positioned my work in anti-racism activism. It has also led to a natural inclination in bringing various racialized diasporic communities together to work in solidarity with First Peoples. This short piece is a reflection on this last decade of engaging in solidarity work.

I want to start by reflecting on the solidarity work of RISE Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees (RISE). As solidarity becomes increasingly important to how activists work against racism in Australia, RISE has maintained an uncompromising and inward-focused position with the motto of “nothing about us without us”. Often, their non-engagement with government, as well as their rejection of the popularity politics of social media, has led RISE to be wrongfully unremembered, but their work in solidarity has been some of the most pivotal and foundational to the solidarity work of today, ten years on. As a collective of refugees, asylum seekers, and ex-detainees, who seek safety on unceded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands, RISE has taken the onus upon themselves and reached out to First Peoples to actively work in solidarity with them. Since at least 2009, RISE have articulated an understanding of issues related to how notions of sovereignty and borders interact with one another and then manifest within Australian politics and society. Critically, RISE has been clear that racialized policies and practices of policing and detention see both First Peoples and those seeking asylum incarcerated in prisons and detention centres at alarmingly high rates.

This extended hand of solidarity has certainly been reciprocated. As an individual, I work with RISE regularly on their self-determined aspirations. Grassroots organizations such as First Nations Liberation (FNL) and Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), have also worked with RISE, with years of slow and steady solidarity-building culminating in key events on the recent timeline of solidarity work. Importantly, in July 2016, RISE, FNL, and WAR came together for “Sovereignty and Sanctuary”, an event where the Aboriginal activist, Uncle Robbie Thorpe presented Aboriginal passports to refugees, asylum seekers, and ex-detainees. Ex-detainee and founder of RISE, Ramesh Fernandez stated of the action: “On this day RISE, on behalf of the refugee community, will acknowledge Aboriginal Sovereignty over this nation and stand in solidarity with the dispossessed First Nations of this country. We commit to fighting for justice on the terms set by Aboriginal people and nothing else”. Meriki Onus of WAR responded in-kind: “Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance welcome this historical event with RISE and First Nations Liberation. RISE’s commitment to accepting Aboriginal passports, Aboriginal law, and customary law is refreshing, and paves the way for all newcomers to this country”.[1]Of course, the issuing of passports is not new or exceptional to RISE, WAR, and FNL. Uncle Robbie Thorpe and the late Uncle Ray Jackson have both been involved in the issuing of passports since at least 2012. The Aboriginal activist, Michael Mansell first introduced the Aboriginal passport in 1988, when they were issued to an Aboriginal delegation travelling to Libya [2]. As a work of solidarity, the issuing of passports from Aboriginal Peoples to refugees and asylum seekers is an important action that is at once both symbolic and practical.

RISE has carefully and slowly built solidarity through hard work and—most importantly—through deep thinking related to various issues of racism, sovereignty, and borders. However, solidarity from diasporic communities toward First Peoples has not always been as robust as exemplified through the work of RISE. From my standpoint as an Aboriginal, Chinese, and Muslim woman, I know that solidarity between migrants to the so-called Australia (specifically non-European non-white migrants) and First Peoples has not always been as strong as it is today. For example, in 2009, I wrote about a rally I attended in Adelaide around the time of the Gaza War:

A politician got up to speak to the 1800-strong crowd. He started off by acknowledging that the rally was on Kaurna land (the traditional Aboriginal people of the area) and how fitting it was to have a rally against illegal invasion, occupation, and dispossession on Aboriginal land, as Indigenous Australians know all too well what invasion, occupation and dispossession mean. Unfortunately, the clapping was nowhere near as loud or widespread for this statement – the majority of Muslims and Arabs in the crowd looked confused as to why this politician had started speaking about Aboriginal Land Rights issues. As I looked around, I noticed that there were a number of non-Muslim Aboriginal people in the crowd, whom I assume were there in solidarity for justice. Seeing those other Aboriginal people in the crowd triggered something inside of me; and it left me wondering if this incident is symptomatic of the relationship between the two communities?[3]

Thankfully, I was not the only one who had begun to question the apathy and racism found within diasporic Muslim communities in Australia at this time. It was only a year later that I began working with long-time collaborator, Aamer Rahman on anti-black racism within the Australian Muslim community. As someone involved in direct action on issues of refugee detention, the war on terror, and Palestine, Rahman understood the racism impacting First Peoples and non-white non-European diasporic communities as both connected and as a site for solidarity action. In this period, Australia was just emerging from a decade of dogged conservatism led by then-Prime Minister John Howard. This era saw the rise of anti-Asian and anti-Aboriginal politics, the post-911 war on terror, invasion of Iraq, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the media, and Howard’s repeated attacks on Aboriginal people culminating in the neo-paternalistic and land-grabbing Northern Territory Intervention.

Against this backdrop of global and local politics, and as a non-Black South Asian Muslim, Rahman’s solidarity toward First Peoples has not only consisted of supporting First Peoples in our struggle, but also in challenging manifestations of anti-blackness within the Muslim community. Some of Rahman’s early solidarity work involved bringing non-Black Muslims, Black Muslims, and First Peoples (Muslim and non-Muslim) together to talk through issues of race and racism. In 2010, a panel discussion on “Race and Identity in the Muslim Community” was held where I spoke alongside prominent thinkers in the global Muslim diaspora. Later that same year an “Indigenous Muslim Solidarity Conference” was organized primarily by Rahman to address issues of apathy and ignorance in the Australian Muslim community. As stated on the flyer for the conference: “This is a special one-day conference for Muslims to be introduced to issues of social justice affecting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Australia, including Land Rights and the Northern Territory Intervention”.[4]

Rahman’s ongoing solidarity work within the Muslim community was effective in changing the attitudes and beliefs of Muslim diasporic communities in Australia. In the years immediately after these solidarity actions, I felt the Australian Muslim community largely shift in their understanding of Australia’s oppressive and violent relationship with First Peoples. Simultaneously, American race politics was increasingly exported to the rest of the world via the internet, through blogging, digital publishing, and social media. Rahman’s early anti-racism work with the Muslim community, coupled with this global phenomenon, has impacted the way Australian Muslim diasporic communities have engaged with First Peoples and facilitated solidarity between the two groups. It is now common to see Muslim blocs at rallies for justice for First Peoples, and Muslim organizations have begun to educate their communities on issues related to First Peoples.

Of course, there is considerable overlap between the Palestinian diaspora in Australia and the Australian Muslim community. In relation to solidarity, much has changed since the rally for Gaza that I attended in 2009. Australian-based Palestinians and First Peoples have held solidarity conferences, panel conversations, written joint statements, and more. In relation to transnational solidarity, I now see many Palestinians re-affirming old ties between global Black consciousness and the Palestinian struggle. Within this, there is resonance and solidarity with First Peoples as both groups recognize their parallel oppression under settler colonial occupation. Most importantly, this resonance and solidarity is undertaken with an increasing understanding that blackness and indigeneity are found together in the First Peoples of so-called Australia.

It is here that the implications for transnational solidarity can be found in the relationship between First Peoples and diasporic communities. The nuance related to how race is operationalized in Australia, and for what purpose, is often difficult for non-Aboriginal people to understand. Currently, American race politics dominates Australian discourse on race, transmitted via social media and the internet. Without nuanced understandings of local contexts transnational solidarity is rendered impotent (in the case of Australia, these nuanced understandings include the way in which race operates to first dispossess First Peoples as Black, and then manifests as anti-Muslim, anti-refugee, and anti-Arab racism in order to keep borders closed to non-white immigrants). It is here that diasporic communities, such as those of the Palestinian diaspora, can effectively contribute to global struggles against injustice. As seen in the solidarity work of Ramesh Fernandez, RISE and Aamer Rahman, deep thinking about issues of race and racism are important to diasporic communities, their understandings of local struggles, and how they feed those understandings into global diasporas, with positive implications for transnational solidarity.

[1] “Sovereignty + Sanctuary: A First Nations/ Refugee Solidarity Event,” RISE, 13/7/2016, accessed on 21/2/2021, at:

[2] “More than 200 Migrants to Receive Aboriginal Passports,” Green Left, 6/8/2012, accessed on 21/2/2021, at:

[3] Eugenia Flynn, “The Hard Questions,” Eugenia Flynn, February 2, 2010, accessed at:

[4] “Indigenous Muslim Solidarity Conference,” Whenua Fenua Enua Vanua, 11/11/2010, accessed on 21/2/2021, at:

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