A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio has shown his support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by reposting an Instagram of a recent demonstration at Parliament House lead by First Nations Australians.
Two weeks ago, close to 100 Indigenous people and supporters staged a sit-in at Parliament House to call for an end to fracking, coal mining and water sharing.
The event named ‘Water is Life’ was organised by an alliance of groups including Seed Mob, Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties, Original Power and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and was staged on the 11th anniversary of the Australian Government’s National Apology to the Stolen Generations with concerns that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were still not being respected.
Yawuru Traditional Owner from the Australian Conservation Foundation in the Kimberly said that there was no empathy from policy makers.
“We’re saying no fracking; look after our water, look after our country in a way that it will enhance my next generation,” he told media on the day.
DiCaprio, an Oscar-winning movie star and environmentalist has long campaigned for Indigenous rights, especially with concerns to climate change. He has donated almost $800,000 toward helping Indigenous communities tackle climate change issues through his environmental foundation, with a total of $20 million distributed to over 100 organisations globally.
In 2016 he dedicated his Golden Globes win to First Nations people.
His repost from global grassroots movement 350.org read:
A historic gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people coming together from every state and territory in Australia to take action to protect water and songlines from greedy corporations.
It included a call to action to follow Indigenous youth climate network, SEED Mob.
Bundjalung woman and National Director of SEED, Amelia Telford told NITV she had to stop herself from screaming on the tram when she saw DiCaprio’s endorsement.
“One of my colleagues messaged me saying, ‘Hey, congrats on the shout out from Leo’,” she explained.
“And I was like, ‘What? Are you serious?’”
“For me and for so many people it's like, we've loved Leo since Titanic," she laughed. "My mum even said today that Leo is my first love. So this has been a personal mission of mine."
Telford explains that SEED didn’t have anything directly to do with the actor's endorsement, but assumes he sourced their content through 350.org who sharing their post. However, it’s something that her and many peers have considered when seeing the way the actor often brings attention to the struggle and resilience of Indigenous people.
“That's just been something that has motivated us to say, ‘One day, wouldn't it be amazing if he was to highlight and bring attention to what's going on here,’ she said.
“In terms of all the issues that we face, but particularly around climate change, in a way that climate change is disproportionately impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Given that he's such an advocate for talking about the ways that climate change and extractive fossil fuel industries are destroying Indigenous land and water and culture across the US and Canada. So yeah, it [the Instagram] was pretty amazing.”
Since, the post has collated nearly 3,000 likes and generated a huge increase of followers for SEED who Telford says wouldn’t have otherwise been able to reach.
“The post Leonardo shared has nearly double the engagement of any other post in the last six months,” she said.
“In the last 24 hours alone, we have got over 500 more Instagram followers.”
Indigenous people, in Australia and around the world, are among the first communities to face the direct consequences of climate change due to their dependence upon and close relationship with the environment and its resources.
As such, the endorsement from a public profile like DiCaprio through his platforms is not about widespread promotion for SEED or Telford’s ultimate fan-girl moment, it’s about acknowledging the resilience, the challenges and overall existence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their culture.
“When these sorts of things happen, it brings so much pride to our community,” Telford said.
“This is years of hard work that goes into leading this sort of action that's about creating stronger communities and a stronger future for our people. And so when you see something like this that brings attention and recognition to the work that we're doing, it's just awesome.
“Seeing all of our volunteers and community mob just sharing, saying how awesome it is to have someone backing us and knowing that they support what we're doing. IT makes you have a little hope, thinking about what the future holds and all the people that are on our side, building the movement.”
Watch SEED Mob's documentary Water Is Life, a story following Aboriginal communities fighting against fracking plans in the Northern Territory on SBS On Demand.
Water Is Life got voted best film by the audience at Environmental Film Festival Australia.