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Future Shapers Community Meriki Onus
Photograph: Supplied

Future Shapers: Meriki Onus, who wants to decolonise Australia

The co-founder of Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance is still fighting for social equity in this country

Rebecca Russo
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Rebecca Russo
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Melbourne in our Future Shaper series. We have asked a panel of esteemed judges comprising Senator Lidia Thorpe (Greens Senator for Victoria), Simon Abrahams (creative director and CEO of Melbourne Fringe), Claire Ferres Miles (CEO of Sustainability Victoria) Pat Nourse (creative director, Melbourne Food and Wine Festival), Peter Tullin (co-founder and CEO of Remix Summits) and Kate Vinot (chair of Zoos Victoria) to help us identify the people changing the future of Melbourne in the areas of food and drink; arts; community and culture; civics; and sustainability. In community and culture, Meriki Onus is recognised for her work with Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance and beyond.

Meriki Onus wants everyone to do the work, as she has. Over the past decade, the Gunai and Gunditjmara activist has made a name for herself as someone who is passionate about policy and advocacy for Aboriginal people. In 2014, Onus co-founded the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, a group of young Aboriginal people who are committed to the cause of decolonisation and the philosophy of Aboriginal nationalism – resistance and revival. 

WAR is fighting for Indigenous sovereignty, land and justice. The organisation is instrumental in organising the annual Invasion Day protest, which happens on January 26 each year. Recently, WAR has been using its platform to show its support for the global Black Lives Matter movement and fight to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody

“Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance isn’t a new concept, but it’s a new group,” says Onus. “Despite what risks that came with, we took a bold move and we reclaimed our position in Aboriginal politics. We did things differently from the perspective of young people.”

Last year, Onus founded Yarnda Consulting, a consultancy business that allows her to do project and research work. For the moment, Onus is taking a step back from consulting to focus on studying a master's in social equity – a course she’s taking in the hopes of expanding her research and writing skills. 

“It’s enabled me to learn how to break down political theories and understand our positions on a bit more of an empathetic level. And to understand academically some of the theories behind some of the stuff that we talk about. Also writing – understanding how to write and construct a good argument and know how to back my own arguments up with research.” 

Her research is part of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity Program for 2021, an investment into Indigenous-led social change based at the University of Melbourne. As an Atlantic Fellow, Onus joins around 20 fellows from across Australia and New Zealand who are committed to fighting inequality. “We’ve gotten together to talk about social change, social equity, and understand what that means. And we’ve been given an opportunity to study various different methodologies and research,” says Onus.

“It’s also a fellowship where we spend time together and talk about issues that we’re all facing. I’ve met people that I wouldn’t usually have the opportunity to meet and learn from different professors and people who are doing all kinds of different things. [Our work focuses on] a whole range of different issues, but it’s mainly about Aboriginal social equity – and that could include decolonisation. It’s an analysis of Aboriginal politics on an in-depth level.”

As for the future, Onus knows something must happen before we can see real, institutional change in this country. “This country Australia has to come to terms with its past, otherwise nothing will change. And there has to be some kind of moment between Aboriginal people and colonial Australia. I don’t know what that will look like, and I don’t want to preempt that. But we certainly need to change the course of what’s happening to Aboriginal people in this country. We can’t keep going on the same trajectory and hoping for something different. We don’t have our own voice, we don’t have our own say in Aboriginal politics.”

For now, Onus will continue to share more through her writing and work to keep her mission and vision alive. “Aside from the accolades and what people have heard, I think I want to reiterate the importance of doing the work in the community. Even academically, or whatever you do, I think it’s still important to remain relevant in your community. And that’s something I certainly aim for and value.”

Read about more of our Future Shapers

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