Support This Torres Strait Islander Campaign By Demanding More Climate Action

By Jessica Best

If you tuned into the First Nations Fashion + Design runway at Australian Fashion Week on May 16, you would have witnessed one of the most landmark moments in Australian fashion. 

The entire showdown was a pretty magical sight, with a strong highlight on female-designers, a nod to First Nations matriarchal embrace. The show was closed out by Elaine George, the first Aboriginal model to lead a cover of Vogue. George flaunted a gold and sequined suit with shoulder pads and bell bottoms, thousands of crystals embedded into the fit. On the back, the word ‘Deadly’ was spelled out with Swarovski jewels. 

What you may not know, is that this very design drew inspiration from a pretty polarising campaign being led at the moment called Our Islands, Our Home. 

Founded back in 2019, the Our Islands Our Home campaign started out as a collaboration supported by the #Torrestrait8, a group of claimants and Traditional Owners from Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait Islands) who brought a human rights complaint against the Australian Federal Government to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations over the Government’s inaction on climate change.

Home to Torres Strait Islanders who have nurtured a deep connection to the land, sea and culture for over 60,000 years, the people of Zenadh Kes are on the front line of climate change with rising sea levels, increasing extreme weather events and coastal erosion affecting the 18 inhabited islands in the region, threatening many communities’ way of life and culture.  

“On my island home Boigu, the place where our village is situated used to be the shape of a crocodile head, however, due to continued erosion the shape over time has changed” says Waniki Maluwapi, a Zenadh Kes and Papuan storyteller and community organiser with the Our Islands Our Home campaign.

“Rising sea levels, king tides, erosion, inundation and coral bleaching are threatening the homes and cultures of Torres Strait Islander people. Advancing seas are already damaging fresh water supplies, crops, burial grounds and sacred cultural sites.”

The Torres Strait Islander-led campaign is requiring urgent action to take place, to ensure Torres Strait Islanders can remain living on their islands. Unfortunately, the Australian Government has failed them in a number of ways.

“Following the launch of the campaign in 2019, the Australian Federal Government have refused Traditional Owners invitations to visit and see the impacts of climate change,” says Maluwapi.

“In August 2020, the Morrison Government asked the UN to dismiss Torres Strait Islanders' claim climate change affects their human rights. They told the UN the case should be dismissed because it concerns future risks, rather than impacts being felt now, and is therefore inadmissible."

In its sixth assessment report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (created to provide policymakers with regular scientific assessments on climate change, its implications and potential future risks), shows that Torres Strait Island communities are already experiencing increased flood risk and water insecurity.

“Rising sea levels have also undermined traditional coastal lands, including the destruction of ancestral burial grounds,” adds Maluwapi.

“These impacts are predicted to intensify as low-lying islands of the Torres Strait face more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades.”

Maluwapi mentions seawalls have been implemented in some of the islands of the Torres Strait but calls these “band-aid solutions to the cause”. 

“The Australian Government is expanding fossil fuel use at a time when we know that we must rapidly be cutting our carbon pollution, and transitioning to renewable energy. Climate action must happen now to protect our island homes.”

In terms of what Our Islands, Our Home and the #TorresStrait8 is calling for, there are five key demands of the Australian Government you should be across:

  • Fund adaptation programs that will allow Zenadh Kes communities to adapt to climate impacts.
  • Commit to going 100 per cent renewables in Australia in the next 10 years.
  • Support Zenadh Kes communities to build community-owned renewable energy.
  • Transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as possible through a just transition for workers.
  • Push the world to increase global ambition and keep warming to less than 1.5 degrees

So, What Can You Do To Help?

You can show solidarity with the Torres Strait by signing the petition and sharing frontline Zenadh Kes voices with your networks. Keep up to date with us via our Instagram and Facebook.

The Our Islands Our Home campaign has also collab’s with Clothing The Gaps (who we know needs no introduction). The two have created a brand new conversation starter, an Our Islands Our Home x Clothing The Gaps tank where 100 per cent of the profits will go towards supporting further work of the campaign. 

Read on for the adapative brands shaking up the fashion and beauty industry.

Image credit: Clothing The Gaps

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