Indigenous kids taught all the wrong lessons

Dujuan Hoosan in In My Blood It Runs. Photo credit: Maya Newell.

By Mikaela Turner

Last September, a 12-year-old boy named Dujuan Hoosan addressed the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, the youngest person ever to do so.

“My name is Dujuan, I am 12 years old. I am from Arrernte and Garrwa Country,” he began.

“I came here to speak with you because the Australian Government is not listening. Adults never listen to kids like me. But we have important things to say.”

And he’s right. Dujuan, who lives in Alice Springs, has a very important story to tell. But he doesn’t need to tell it now because film director Maya Newell has done it for him.

Her recent movie, In My Blood It Runs, a documentary chronicling a year in (then 10-year-old) Dujuan’s education, lays bare the systemic racism that still pervades our education system and community at large.

“My film is for all Aboriginal kids,” Dujuan told the UN. “It is about our dreams, our hopes and our rights. I hope you can make things better for us.”

In My Blood It Runs shows Dujuan, who could speak four languages, struggling to learn the curriculum and being told he was a failure.

“I was always worried about being taken away from my family. I was nearly locked up in jail,” he tells the UN. “I was lucky because my family, they know I am smart. They love me. They found a way to keep me safe.

“There are some things I want to see changed: I want adults to stop cruelling 10-year-old kids in jail.”

Maya says the education and juvenile justice are “intrinsically connected”. “Without knowing it, we’ve made a film that outlines how the school-to-prison pipeline is very alive in Australia,” she told the ABC.

“We cannot have a conversation about juvenile justice without looking at the education system.”

In My Blood It Runs opened to positive reviews in February before having its screen-life cut short when cinemas were closed in March.

Synod’s Youth Ministry Coordinator Bradon French recently hosted a live YouTube session with two prominent Christian Indigenous women, Safina Stewart and Brooke Prentis, to discuss the movie.

Safina, an acclaimed artist, says In My Blood It Runs was difficult to watch.

“To be honest, I was angry,” she says. “It’s a brilliant documentary and, because it’s so well put together, it is so real, I had to sit in ‘protection mode’ so as not to go into trauma.

“The discomfort with the pain is an everyday thing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, so I found it disturbing, but not unfamiliar, not new.

“It was rehashing the rehashed, raising what has been raised for generations over the injustices of colonisation.”

For Brooke, CEO of Christian justice movement Common Grace, the overwhelming familiarity of Dujuan’s story was something she also took away from the screening.

“We’re living this each and every day. This isn’t just happening in Alice Springs, Aboriginal communities exist right across this country we call Australia,” she says.

“For me, this told the story of how all the systems are embedded in this injustice, the prison, the police officers, the education, hospitals, welfare. When Dujuan’s mum is talking about welfare, she isn’t talking about Centrelink, she’s talking about child protection. These systems are not about the safety of our Aboriginal children, they are systems that are built on centuries of injustice.”

Dujuan and his mother Megan. Photo credit: Maya Newell.

One scene shows Dujuan being taught about Captain Cook in school. His teacher declares “this is the history of our country” and describes Cook as a “great sailor” who claimed this “new land”.

Dujuan, of course, knows there’s nothing “new” about Australia, his ancestors had called it home for generations before Captain Cook arrived. And when you consider the impact of colonisation on Australia’s Indigenous people, it’s understandable that Dujuan doesn’t see Cook as “great”.

Dujuan tries to voice his perspective on Cook, politely, by raising his hand, but he is ignored.

In a subsequent interview, Dujuan said instances like these made him “confused and not want to listen at school”.

“We were taught Captain Cook was a hero who discovered Australia, that’s not true. Before there were cars, buildings and houses there were Aboriginal people,” he says.

Brooke says scenes like this aren’t unusual within our education system. “The true history is still not being taught in schools today and we need parents to challenge this,” she says.

“That is one of these foundational systemic injustices – that the land was stolen.”

Another scene shows Dujuan, again in school, being read to from a different book – one the teacher clearly views as fiction. She reads “for a long time there was nothing, then, in the mind of the Spirit of Life, a Dreaming began”.

This is the creation story central to Aboriginal beliefs, something Dujuan sees as far from fiction. Yet the teacher is sceptical and, at one point, says: “They’re saying there’s actually a spirit, I’m not sure how that works.”

This time Dujuan doesn’t even attempt to raise his hand, he just blurts out: “The spirit is real!” The teacher ignores him and continues reading.

This scene was particularly troubling for Safina. “To know one’s belonging and one’s purpose is so important to the survival of our people,” she says.

“If you take that away, if you dismantle our dignity and our amazing connection to our place, then you continue to kill us. It has the effect of killing our spirit.”

Brooke fears the documentary will fall victim to Australia’s short attention span.

There will be a period of time, after viewing, in which people will be shocked and outraged, but it won’t be long before it disappears from people’s minds.

“Australia keeps having these wake- up moments, one of those is the background of the movie, the Four Corners program on Don Dale Youth Detention Centre, it felt like Australia woke up and I prayed it would stay awake, but Australia fell back asleep,” she says.

“It woke up again with the Adam Goodes documentary. The non-Indigenous community wakes up and falls back asleep again, but Safina and I continue to pray that Australia will stay awake.”

“Waking up” or even “staying awake” can come with its own set of problems, however.

“Non-Indigenous people may have good intentions, but sometimes their actions only add to an already heavy burden being carried by our Indigenous population. Humility is the key, according to Safina.

“When you interact with Indigenous people, come with an understanding that this pain has been carried from generation to generation, even if it’s only now that we are beginning to be heard,” she says.

“It’s not our responsibility to help you through your white guilt. I’m holding enough already and for you to assume that you can approach me and say ‘I have this big issue with my guilt’, wouldn’t that be another misuse of power?

“If you guys did your business and faced your own demons, we could meet and do our mutual business in a much more safe and productive way.

“Whatever connections you have with your Indigenous community, it’s incredibly beautiful to be connected in humility with each other.

“Humility doesn’t assume a lot, it accepts much and it hears and honours.”

Brooke says it’s important that non-Indigenous people continue to call out racism.

“The impact of racism is breaking our peoples,” she says. “The amount of people who say to me ‘you just have to forgive’, I have forgiven, but we have to forgive every day.”

Safina and Brooke encourage people to see In My Blood It Runs and hope it will lead to more conversations with our First Peoples.

“Please take up the call for justice, we need you, we need you to learn and want to grow and we want you to connect,” Safina says. “See us through the eyes of Jesus, as His loved ones.”

In My Blood It Runs is now available to watch on ABC iview.

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