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Debate rages as Nova Peris claims Aboriginal flag ‘misappropriated’ by Palestine protesters

Dechlan Brennan -

Former Labor Senator Nova Peris has sparked debate by arguing the Indigenous flag and chants have been misappropriated at pro-Palestine rallies.

The comments by Ms Peris, the first Indigenous woman elected to Federal Parliament, are the latest salvos in an increasingly fractious debate over the current war in Gaza.

The former Olympian, who is a descendant of the Gija people of the East Kimberley; the Yawuru people of the West Kimberley and the Iwatja and Gagudju people of West Arnhem Land, criticised activists.

In a social media campaign video she argued it had become "trendy" to support Palestine and questioned the historical knowledge of some activists who "relied too heavily" on information she said was garnered from Tik Tok.

"I'm saddened to see our sacred Aboriginal flag, a flag which I fought so hard to be returned to the Aboriginal community, being misappropriated by Palestinian anti-Israel and anti-Jewish groups in Australia," Ms Peris said in the video.

"I want to reciprocate by helping overturn a similar lie which is now being told against the Jewish people: that they have no connection to the land of Israel; that they are 'settler-colonialists'."

@natindigtimes Nova Peris has appeared on Ben Fordman's radio show to denounce the use of the Aboriginal flag at protests regarding the conflict in the Middle East. #indigenousaustralia #aboriginalflag #novaperis #middleeast #palestine #aboriginalflag #aboriginalaustralia ♬ original sound - National Indigenous Times

Mununjali and South Sea Island professor Chelsea Watego told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald that solidarity between the Aboriginal and Palestinian movements was not a new phenomenon.

"I would highly recommend that those critiquing Blackfulla-Palestinian solidarities engage with the intellectual work of mob who have a most intimate and sophisticated understanding of settler colonialism," she said.

Ms Peris was part of the campaign to free the Aboriginal flag for community use, which resulted in the Federal Government paying $20m for the flag transferred to public hands in 2022.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Ms Peris's video was "to be boosted by paid advertisements and influencers" as well as funds by Jewish, non-Jewish and Indigenous supporters and Ms Peris herself.

Her comments echo the sentiment of Indigenous academic Marcia Langton, who used an opinion piece in The Australian last year to argue it was false to suggest most Indigenous people felt solidarity with Palestinians.

A number of Indigenous figures rejected Ms Peris' views, including Senator Lidia Thorpe.

The Gunnai, Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman told the Sydney Morning Herald: "It's not up to one individual to decide what we do with our flag – it's up to the people."

Palestinian flags were in abundance during the January 26 rallies.

"The people have spoken," she said.

The independent senator for Victoria has previously spoken to crowds at pro-Palestinian rallies and on Tuesday sported a shirt covered in watermelons, a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinians (which contains the colours of the Palestinian flag).

During the recent January 26 rallies across Australia, Palestinian flags were seen alongside the Aboriginal flag in large numbers. The rally in Naarm saw many pro-Palestinian advocates speak, including Nasser Mashni from the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network, and National Indigenous Times spoke to many protestors who aligned the two causes together.

The Naarm rally also saw Indigenous academic Uncle Gary Foley tell the crowd Palestinians were "being subjected right now to a brutal genocide, on the part of the Israeli government and military."

The Gumbaynggirr academic has promoted Palestinian causes and in 2021 said: "All Aboriginal people in Australia, like all Palestinian people, are impacted by the ongoing occupation of our homelands."

Writing in Crikey, Gunai/Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta essayist Nayuka Gorrie and Amangu Yamatji associate professor Crystal McKinnon said Palestinians have stood with Indigenous people at rallies in the past and in turn, "we continue to unwaveringly stand with them now, as we have in years before."

"We will continue to remind those people, those colonial state forces, 'we are still here, and we aren't going anywhere'," they said.

Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta, Erub and Mer Islands writer Tarneen Onus Browne wrote on social media that many in the community had inquired where to get pins worn by Nasser Mashni on his ABC appearance last year.

"I've had countless people in my community asking for that pin that Nasser wore on Q& A I literally had people rowing about someone getting two pins cos they wanted more Aboriginal and Palestinian flag pins," she tweeted.

Both the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT have also expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian cause in recent months.

It is estimated that more than 27,000 people, including more than 11,000 children, have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since the latest escalation in hostilities began on October 7 last year, when 695 Israeli civilians and around 400 Israeli soldiers were killed in Hamas' attacks.

On 26 January, the International Court of Justice ordered that Israel take all measures within its power to prevent committing any acts that constitute genocide against Palestinians.

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