The Black Lives Matter movement has shone a light on racism around the world, but Indigenous NRL players were taking action of their own months before worldwide protests erupted.
- ARLC boss Peter V’Landys says rugby league “has made a lot of mistakes” in the way it has looked after Indigenous communities
- V’Landys says he admired the support Latrell Mitchell received from Indigenous players across the NRL
- Souths’ Cody Walker says supporting movements like Black Lives Matter is important to highlight the ongoing impacts of racism
Leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players met with the NRL late last year to raise concerns about racism and how to improve the relationship with the country’s first peoples.
“I was ashamed of myself when I left that meeting,” ARLC chair Peter V’landys said.
“I was disappointed that I was unaware of their situation, the historical issues over our time and some of the things that they go through.
“We made a lot of mistakes with our Indigenous communities. We need to acknowledge those mistakes, and we don’t want to make the same mistakes again.”
His stark admission came at the launch of the annual Indigenous round, which kicks off this week.
“Part of this [Indigenous round] is to educate people that racism should be eradicated, it should not occur in rugby league or any part of society.”
V’landys says he wants the annual event to be about more than clubs wearing a commemorative jersey.
“From what I heard from those players, I hope this round educates others and shows the hurt that can happen when you don’t understand.”
So what has been done since?
An advisory body has been set up to better consult with players and implement changes. The theme of this year’s round is ‘Pass Back. Move Forward’ to better understand and build a brighter future.
The NRL has also vowed to support players in speaking out against injustice and scrutiny.
“They are using their profile to eradicate racism and inequality, when there was a lot of media attention on Latrell Mitchell,” V’landys said.
“I so admired the way they [Indigenous players] stuck with him and looked after him.”
The code also wants to increase Indigenous participation rates and pathways as well as for Pacific Islander and New Zealanders.
Players in solidarity with Black Lives Matter
Indigenous players like the Eels’ Blake Ferguson and Storm’s Josh Addo-Carr were the driving force to show solidarity with the protests and to raise awareness about Aboriginal deaths in custody, taking a knee in round five last month.
Souths’ five-eighth Cody Walker is another who has been vocal in his push to expose and eradicate racism in the game, and says the burden can not be carried entirely by Indigenous people.
“Supporting these movements is the way forward, because in reality we are in the minority and if we get the majority speaking up about these things that’s the conversation starters we are looking for,” Walker said.
Walker has been one of the biggest advocates for change, refusing to sing the national anthem last Indigenous round.
Souths’ Dane Gagai said backing Black Lives Matter was the right thing to do.
“It’s pretty alarming to see the statistics — it wasn’t just the Indigenous guys, everyone is supportive of it to start looking at moving forward as a nation,” Gagai said.
Gagai is supportive of the NRL’s acknowledgement of the need for change.
“I still think there’s some way to go but there’s been a lot of steps made in the right direction.”
Souths doing work off the field
Indigenous culture has been integral to the Rabbitohs identity for more than a century and the club prides itself on its work off the field.
It runs Souths Cares, which manages several initiatives to provide Indigenous employment, education, health and social services.
“We run the Deadly Youth program for 10-to 17-year-olds that have come to the attention of the police. We believe getting in earlier is a lot better than later on,” Alisha Parker-Elrez, general manager of Souths Care, said.
“The school-to-work program, which all of the other clubs have picked up, [is about] mentoring and supporting year 10-12 students to get their HSC, with 96 per cent going onto further their education or employment.”
The players volunteer their time to be heavily involved in the program.
“The boys are fantastic, they believe in what they do and want to help their own people. When they come here and sign a contract to play for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, this is a part of it.”
Each club is observing the Indigenous Round in different ways.
The Newcastle Knights are supporting the Cultural Choice Association, working to prevent Indigenous youth suicide.
It’s an issue close to hooker Connor Watson’s heart, after he lost his cousin Parker to suicide.
“Anyone who read the statistic about it would be quite shocked and taken away — it shouldn’t be happening as much as it is and more needs to be done about it,” Watson said.
The Rabbitohs of the Gadigal people start the Indigenous round on Thursday, taking on the Dragons of the Dharawal and Yuin nations.
Credit: Source link