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Indigenous peoples echo Black Lives Matter’s call for justice

This year, U.S. protests over police brutality and violence against Black Americans have led to a prominent national conversation on racism. Indigenous peoples in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have leveraged the momentum both to show solidarity and to bring attention to similar issues in their own countries. Amna Nawaz reports on a global effort to identify and address racism and oppression.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While protests in the U.S. over police killings of Black people have led to a reckoning over racism here, Indigenous peoples overseas have used this spotlight to show solidarity and to highlight similar issues in their own countries.

    And a word of warning, especially to some of those Indigenous communities: In this report, we discuss and show people who have lost their lives.

    Here's Amna Nawaz.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    It was the moment that sparked a movement, shining a light worldwide on the treatment of Native and Indigenous peoples, who, like Black Americans, are disproportionately jailed and killed by police.

    In Canada, Black Lives Matter marches filled the streets in the months after George Floyd's death, an outpouring of pent-up frustration by Canadians of color, born, in part, of a fraught and fractured history between law enforcement and Indigenous populations.

    In June, the violent arrest of Native Chief Allan Adam, pulled over for an expired license plate, shocked the country. And between April and June, Canadian police shot and killed six Indigenous people, including a woman killed during a — quote, unquote — "wellness check."

    The public pressure has forced a response from federal authorities. For the first time, in June, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, released a statement acknowledging systemic racism on the force, reversing earlier denials.

    And Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised broad reforms.

  • Justin Trudeau:

    Systemic racism is an issue right across the country in all our institutions, including in all our police forces. That's what systemic racism is.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Those systemic problems in Indigenous and First Nations communities, says author Waubgeshig Rice, go far beyond policing.

  • Waubgeshig Rice:

    In recent months, the Black Lives Matter movement has really catalyzed a lot of that understanding and put the spotlight on systemic racism in all realms, in all sectors here in Canada.

    There are poverty issues in First Nations. Many have unclean drinking water. There are ongoing issues of addictions and poverty as a result of being displaced and colonized.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Meanwhile across the globe, in New Zealand, activist Kassie Hartendorp, part of the country's Native Maori community, wrestles with the same issues.

  • Kassie Hartendorp:

    We have rich histories and traditions of what it means to be Maori or Indigenous here. And we have really had to fight to take those back,because, hand in hand with colonization, means that Maori are left off in a worse situation, so in terms of health statistics, in terms of violence. Our incarceration numbers are all obscenely high, and so it affects us at every single level.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After George Floyd's death, Hartendorp helped to organize this Black Lives Matter March in June in the capital city of Wellington. The turnout shocked her.

  • Kassie Hartendorp:

    Apparently, it was the biggest March in a decade. And I have been to a few, so I know what they can look like.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    You have been organizing and participating in these marches for years and years. What was that like for you to be there in that moment and feel that something might be different this time?

  • Kassie Hartendorp:

    It was really inspiring. It was really inspiring. Half the crowd got down on one knee, and the rest stood and did a very staunch haka, a war chant in solidarity with everyone facing racism.

    Big things are possible. That's what this moment tells me.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    In neighboring Australia, George Floyd's death reignited calls for police accountability.

    Paul Silva helped lead Sydney's largest march.

  • Paul Silva:

    We needed to take a stand. We need to get out there on the streets and keep this momentum happening, you know, to push for the injustice for Aboriginal deaths in custody.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Silva's uncle, an Aboriginal man named David Dungay Jr., was 26 when he died in jail in 2015, his final words, now hauntingly familiar: "I can't breathe."

  • David Dungay Jr.:

    I can't breathe, please! Let me up, please! I can't breathe.

  • Jack Latimore:

    Repeatedly, we see these sorts of cases, but it's like there's a blind spot in the Australian broader public, and they do not take it in.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jack Latimore, an Aboriginal journalist, traces the roots of Australia's racism back to British colonizers, who, upon arrival, claimed the continent as terra nullius, or empty land.

    White landowners later forced Aboriginals and Pacific Islanders to work plantations and cattle stations for little or no pay.

  • Jack Latimore:

    There's no doubt it's in European documented history that there was slavery in Australia.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    But that history has been denied by some, including Australia's own prime minister, Scott Morrison.

  • Scott Morrison:

    While slave ships continued to travel around the world, when Australia was established, it was a pretty brutal place. But there was no slavery in Australia.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    After public backlash, Morrison apologized for his comments, and walked them back.

    But those denials, Latimore says, have kept the country from confronting its history of forced labor and the legacy of colonialism.

  • Jack Latimore:

    When the American uprisings began, people started to scratch the surface, I suppose. People started to go, well, we have got that here.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And the problem has long been documented. A government report in 1991 found Aboriginal people were grossly overrepresented in police custody. Since then, Aboriginal incarceration rates have doubled.

    Today, even though Indigenous Australians make up roughly 3 percent of Australia's total population, they comprise more than 25 percent of the prison population. Aboriginal people are also 10 times more likely to die in police custody than other Australians, people like Tanya Day from the town of Echuca, who died in jail in 2017.

    Her daughter, Apryl Watson:

  • Apryl Watson:

    We know, as Aboriginal people, that mom wouldn't have been arrested and placed in that cell if she was a white woman.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Day was arrested for public drunkenness after falling asleep on a train, and died in police custody. An autopsy found she suffered catastrophic injuries after repeatedly falling and hitting her head in her jail cell.

    A state investigation found the train employee who first called police was — quote, unquote — "influenced" by the fact that day was Aboriginal. Though the officers safely drove home another drunk non-Indigenous woman that day, they chose to arrest and jail Day.

    And once Day was in custody, officers failed to check on her every 30 minutes, as required. The report described Day's death as clearly preventable.

  • Apryl Watson:

    She should have been in a hospital or at the doctor's, because if it was her health that they were concerned about, a police cell is not a safe space.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    What is that like for you today, these few years later, to think back all those seemingly sort of innocuous steps along the way, that any one of them could have saved your mom?

  • Apryl Watson:

    It's really hard, because we have to live with it every day, not just us, but our community, our kids. And I feel like they don't — they don't have to live that same pain.

    They don't have to live that same knowing that their mom suffered in a terrible, horrible way, because she did. And you can see that on the footage.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And in late August, another blow for the family. Authorities announced they would not press charges against the officers involved in Day's death.

    Among those marching for change, it's yet another example of justice denied. Over three decades, more than 400 Indigenous people have died in police custody, but no officer has ever been convicted. And so, today, the march continues.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Amna Nawaz.

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