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6 min read

The fight to stop Indigenous deaths in custody: Update from Impact Partner Apryl Day, Dhadjowa Foundation

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 18/7/2022

Earlier this month, NAIDOC Week celebrations were held across the country to recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Apryl is a proud Yorta Yorta, Wemba Wemba and Barapa Barapa woman who joined the panel to speak from her experience as a community organiser and campaigner in the fight to stop Indigenous deaths in custody.

On December 5, 2017, Apryl’s mother Aunty Tanya Day, a proud Yorta Yorta woman, fell asleep while travelling by train from Bendigo to Melbourne. She was taken off the train by V/Line officials, handed over to police and arrested for public drunkenness.

While in police custody, Tanya fell and hit her head and was left fatally injured on the cell floor for three hours. She died of brain injuries 17 days later.

Apryl and her family successfully led a campaign to end the criminalisation of public drunkenness laws that have historically discriminated against Indigenous peoples.

With support from the Impact Fund community, Apryl has now established the Dhadjowa Foundation to provide strategic and culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families whose loved ones have died in custody.

In this Q&A, Apryl shares the story of establishing Dhadjowa Foundation and explains why family-led advocacy is so important in the fight to stop Indigenous deaths in custody.

WATCH: Q&A WITH APRYL DAY

Apryl Day founded the Dhadjowa Foundation to provide strategic and culturally appropriate support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Tell us about Dhadjowa Foundation and what led you to establish the first grassroots Indigenous-led organisation supporting families going through a death in custody.

It was a really difficult year in 2017, losing Mum and going through that heartache and trauma, but then also having to turn that into resilience to be able to advocate and achieve that systemic change.

I did learn a lot of things along the way. One of those things was, as Aboriginal people going through a death in custody, what we need to be able to fight for justice for our loved ones and to ensure that our voices are heard.

While we were going through the coronial inquest, which came about two years after Mum had died, I just kept thinking ‘we need something that’s actually established for families’.

I just really wanted to make sure that when the family was feeling that loss and despair, they could come to an organisation that has that holistic wraparound support and ask 101 questions and we’ll be able to provide the support for those.

Tell us about the importance of this work being both family-led and community-led.

In our family campaign, the way we strategised that was to ensure our family’s voice was centred, and we carried that for years. That actually led to the abolition of public drunkenness, which was a discriminatory law that should have been abolished in the Royal Commission – a recommendation that had been ignored for 30 years. That was until Mum was arrested for it and we started to campaign to have it decriminalised.

We were successful and that was purely down to the fact that our family advocated for it and had community and supporters standing beside us helping achieve that systemic change.

How does Dhadjowa Foundation support families?

We support the families right from the moment of sorry business through to helping them organise the funeral into the coronial proceedings. We can be there while they meet with their lawyers, and also when that comes through to the trial if there is one, as well as to the coroner’s findings.

A lot of the time I reach out to the family myself or the family reaches out to me and that’s when we begin the process of ensuring that their loved ones are being buried with dignity and respect, and that the family feels supported.

We need to be able to fight for justice for our loved ones and to ensure that our voices are heard.

Once they have had their time to process what has happened, linking them in with lawyers and start to get that ball rolling about what a campaign strategy would look like.

It was a few months ago Joyce Clark’s family had attended her trial, which was for a police officer that was on trial for murder in Perth.

Joyce Clarke was a Yamatji woman who was a mother experiencing mental health issues and she was fatally shot by police. It was one of the first cases that had a police officer on trial in about a hundred years, so it was a really historic case. Joyce had a large family that needed support.

She had both sides of her family attend the trial, which was over four weeks, so to be able to do that we had to ensure that the family had accommodation, flights, assistance with food vouchers, campaign materials like t-shirts and banners. That wouldn’t have been able to happen without Dhadjowa’s support and without the support of Australian Communities Foundation and Impact Fund donors.

How important is the support Dhadjowa Foundation receives from funders like the Impact Fund community?

It means everything. You sort of feel like you’re alone and that your loved one wasn’t seen or heard. When you have someone that is caring enough to donate towards your cause to ensure that you’re supported and that you’re able to attend the coronial or put that towards your loved one’s funeral, that really does mean a lot.

Each time I speak to the families and they find out that we can contribute to their funeral costs, it really does mean the world to them. It is quite an emotional moment when they find out we can do that, and that has come solely because of the donors support. It really has made the difference for Dhadjowa but most importantly for the families that have been affected by a death in custody.

When you have someone that is caring enough to donate towards your cause … that really does mean a lot

Because of ACF and being part of the Impact Fund, I felt comfortable and supported enough to pick up the phone and ask questions around the grants, around the language I need to use, or just a general question around how the philanthropy sector works.

If I wasn’t a part of the Impact Fund, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity, and myself and Dhadjowa wouldn’t be at the spot we’re at today.