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5 min read

Common Threads and Building Power for First Nations Justice

Profile of Millie Telford
Written by Millie TelfordPosted on 6/6/2023

At such a pivotal time in history, we need to be building widespread public support for transformative change on First Nations justice, now and beyond the referendum.

The recent Common Threads Summit, spearheaded by the same team behind Passing The Message Stick, brought together First Nations campaigners, community organisers, storytellers and changemakers from across the country to build power of First Nations-led campaigns and movements for justice and self-determination.

Over two powerful and thought-provoking days together, from March 30-31, Common Threads was a truly unique space for mob who are driving big change in communities across the nation. It’s rare to have spaces where First Nations people are supported to come together to connect, yarn, learn, strategise and plan for action together, but this Summit was all about that.

Tishiko King, First Nations Program Manager at Australian Communities Foundation, was one of the 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who attended the Summit who collectively travelled hundreds of thousands of kilometres to come together in Meanjin (Brisbane), all the way from Warraber and Erub Island in the Torres Strait to lutruwita (Tasmania), to Kununurra in the Kimberley and beyond.

Here are some of the key takeaways and next steps from the Summit:

1. We need to see transformative change over the next decade for First Nations justice which starts with investing in those who are driving the solutions in their communities across the country.

As we know, First Nations communities have fought tirelessly to bring about change and justice for our people. With many of our elders having paved the way, we are seeing younger generations stepping up and carrying on their legacy.

Over the next decade, transformative policy change for First Nations justice and self-determination – led by our communities – needs to be front and centre in the national conversation and at the top of the political agenda.

Transformative policy change for First Nations justice and self-determination – led by our communities – needs to be front and centre

From land rights to stopping black deaths in custody; fighting racism and inequality; to keeping kids in community and advocating for treaties, truth-telling and representation – we have the solutions and we know what our communities need.

That’s why we hosted Common Threads and why it is so important and why we need to invest more in the incredible First Nations people, organisations and collectives who are driving community-led solutions that are the key to a healthy, sustainable and equitable future for everyone.

2. There is huge strength in the diversity of knowledge, perspectives and approaches to creating change, and together we can achieve our shared vision for the future.

The Summit saw an extraordinary line-up of speakers, sharing wisdom and lessons from their activism to date, and inspiration for how we can support each other across the various roles we play in creating change for our communities.

With First Nations campaigners, community organisers, communicators and changemakers coming together from all corners of the country, there was huge strength in our shared values and collective vision for the future, as well as strength in the diversity of our opinions, perspectives, experiences and approaches to creating change.

Image: Dr Jackie Huggins AM FAHA speaking at the Common Threads Summit.

Together we contributed to important discussions on a range of issues from the upcoming referendum to ending youth prisons and deaths in custody; from tackling the climate crisis and protecting cultural heritage, to tackling racism in health and housing; from fighting for disability justice, to telling stories and educating ourselves in our own way as well as reviving languages and building pathways to treaties and truth telling.  

Together, we created a shared vision for a future grounded in self-determination, justice, care for community and Country, strength in culture and language and of course, black joy!

3. We need more spaces like Common Threads for First Nations campaigns, organisers, storytellers and change makers to come together, so we need to do it again!

Common Threads was unique in that it was designed for, and by, First Nations people – making it a safe space to come together, share strategies, build skills and yarn with other mob about our work.

The program was jam-packed, including a variety of keynote sessions and speakers, issue-based breakouts, skills-based workshops and dedicated time for networking and relationship building, but even before the event finished, people were already asking if, and when, we would be doing it again (the answer is yes).

4. Common Threads was a collective effort and collaboration is key to our success!

Common Threads is a project of Passing the Message Stick, led in 2022 by a steering committee of Dr Jackie Huggins AM, Larissa Baldwin, Amelia Telford and Kirsty Albion. The Summit itself was delivered through a partnership between GetUp and Australian Progress, with support from many partners and funders, without whom it wouldn’t have been possible.

Together, we created a shared vision for a future grounded in self-determination, justice, care for community and Country

The team is so proud to have worked together with and had the support of the Dhadjowa Foundation, Jumbunna Institute, Pay the Rent, Warriors of The Aboriginal Resistance, Foundation for Young Australians, Lowitja Institute, Oxfam, Bank Australia, Reichstein Foundation, Amnesty, Future Super, Essential Media and many other community members and allies along the way.

So, what’s next?

Common Threads was the first project of its kind, but it won’t be the last as we’re gearing up to host it again in March 2024. There is a huge need to build the capacity and infrastructure of First Nations campaigns, movements and networks across the country.

Over the coming months, the Passing the Message Stick team will also be rolling out the next phase of this ground-breaking research project – designed to find messages that build widespread support for transformative change on First Nations justice and self-determination.

The latest round of research builds on the foundations, to develop persuasive messages on key issues relevant in our current political context including truth-telling, treaty and representation, within the context of the referendum.

To hear more, head to where you can RSVP to upcoming online briefings on the message research, in-person events and learn about ways you can support this work.