After a year long walk across Australia, visiting remote Aboriginal communities along the way, Clinton Pryor became known as the “Spirit Walker.”
In September, he arrived at his destination, the Australian capital, demanding to meet the country’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the opposition leader and other members of Parliament.
From Sydney, Jake Atienza finds out more about Clinton Pryor’s Walk for Justice.
Clinton Pryor has walked almost 6000 kilometres, from one side of Australia to the other, through desert and harsh terrain.
Accompanied by his Uncle and supporters, the 27 year old Aboriginal man from Western Australia arrived in the country’s capital Canberra, after a year of solid walking.
His aim? To raise awareness about issues in Aboriginal communities.
“We’re living in a first world country but we have people living in third world conditions,” he says in explanation.
Initially, Clinton’s Walk for Justice was a response to the Western Australian government’s plan to defund services to around 150 remote Aboriginal communities.
Addressing a crowd of supporters in Sydney last month, Clinton made it clear that remote Indigenous communities are hugely disadvantaged.
“A lot of people out there are committing suicide, two black fellas commit suicide every week. There are no services for counseling and that for our people to talk to,” he stated.
Indigenous People living in remote areas face particularly high rates of unemployment, mental health issues and struggle to make ends meet.
According to a 2015 federal government report on Indigenous health and welfare, the suicide rate for Indigenous youth is five times that of non-Indigenous youth.
The unemployment rate of Indigenous People is four times higher than non-Indigenous people. And Indigenous Australians are six times more likely to live in public housing.
Far from economic centres, opportunities for development are scarce.
“A lot of the people out there don’t even have fresh water. None of them don’t even have water. And people are starving out there too.” He continued, “food prices was getting higher and higher the more further we went out.”
Since British colonizers arrived, Aboriginal Australians have had their land taken, and their children stolen. The introduction of disease and alcohol rotted communities.
In the early 20th century, thousands of Indigenous Australians were taken off their land, rounded up, and put in compounds run by Christian missionaries, where their own language and culture was suppressed.
While those policies have officially ended, systemic disadvantage continues.
There’s a growing feeling of dissatisfaction among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, who feel the government systematically neglects them.
“We lived on promises and lies all our lives. We know what they did. I know what they did. And I am not really happy with them,” Bronwyn Nawland, an Aboriginal woman from Kalgoorlie in Western Australia told me.
When an Indigenous teenager was fatally hit by a car in 2016, the driver of the vehicle was charged with reckless driving and found not guilty of manslaughter.
Bronwyn Nawland feels that justice hadn’t been served. She explains that incidences like these, further the distrust towards the government.
“That incident in Kalgoorlie, yes and a lot of other issues in Kalgoorlie cannot be solved in a hurry. They're not gonna solve the problem. We must solve our own problem. Let us solve our own problem,” she commented.
Clinton Pryor’s Walk for Justice comes at a time of change in Aboriginal affairs.
Pryor insists that a treaty between the Australian government and Indigenous People must be at top of the political agenda.
“We’re more in support of a treaty so that we can self-govern and take care of our people ourselves,” he stated.
In September, Clinton Pryor met with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
The goal, he says, was to raise issues he encountered in Aboriginal communities and to push for treaty negotiations.
But after walking almost 6000 kilometers in 12 months, he still felt the voices of Indigenous People fell on deaf ears.
“The past must be taught at schools and at high schools and at universities so that we do not make the same mistakes of what happened in the past. We learn from it so we can build a better future for ourselves. And also educate non-Indigenous people.”
Clinton hasn’t reached the end of the road yet. He’s promised to continue fighting for Aboriginal voices to be heard.