Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. But no one could have predicted 12-year-old Dujuan Hoosan would personally take the fight for justice for Australian children all the way to the United Nations in Geneva. After all, this was a kid whose teachers had given up all hope; a kid police were attempting to lock up.
But last September, Dujuan, an Arrernte/Garrwa boy from Central Australia, became the youngest person ever to address the UN Human Rights Council. He had a simple message for the Australian government: stop sending 10-year-old children to prison.
“I was always worried about being taken away from my family,” he told the council. “I was lucky because my family, they know I am smart. They love me. They found a way to keep me safe.”
The engaging, whip-smart child proved so compelling he was invited to the home of Chilean Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, where he continued to plead with the UN to pressure the Australian government to raise the minimum age of juvenile detention from 10 to 14. The age of criminal responsibility is an an issue across the world.
Four years ago, award-winning filmmaker Maya Newell began documenting Dujuan’s story. The result is In My Blood It Runs, a unique insight into the day-to-day life of Dujuan and his extended family with all the joys and struggles it entails.
Dujuan’s story is compelling: he speaks three languages, is a traditional healer, a keen young hunter and a very loving grandson. He is also considered a failure at school as his report card bluntly indicates. Dujuan becomes disengaged, begins mucking up and faces juvenile detention. But his family steps in to take matters into their own hands.
In My Blood It Runs has already screened at state and international film festivals and been seen by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and the South Australian Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Next week it will be screened in Federal Parliament and Newell and Dujuan have issued a personal invitation to the prime minister.
“Scott Morrison has the invitation. There will be a chair with his name on it and we hope he’ll be there,” Newell says.
A decade ago Newell was invited by Arrernte elders to Alice Springs to document their work educating their children on language, culture and identity under the Children’s Ground System program. The First Nations-led immersive education program exists in countries like New Zealand, Canada and the US, but is not prevalent in Australia.
She spent a lot of that time with Dujuan and his family, observing the potential and enthusiasm of this magnetic young boy – and watching him come perilously close to being locked up. According to data from the families department, in 2018 – the time of filming – 100 per cent of children in juvenile detention in the Northern Territory were Indigenous. Newell knew she had the makings of a powerful film that offered a solution.
The daughter of gay mums, Newell’s 2015 award-winning documentary Gayby Baby told the story of four children in same-sex families, in their own voices. At the time of its release, it sparked national debate when the NSW Government banned it from being screened in schools.
Since then it has been screened in parliament in every state and territory, adoption reform has made it possible for gay couples to adopt in all Australian states and the Australian Government passed the marriage equality bill. Such progress, Newell knows, is the work of many people over many decades. But the positive impact of Gayby Baby is undeniable.
“I saw the power of cinema to contribute to social change,” she says. “And as a settler in this country, I felt the human rights abuses against First Nations people were horrendous. It was the most important issue I could spend my time on,” she told Broadsheet.
In My Blood It Runs addresses two core issues: the need for First Nations-led education, and the urgent demand to raise the minimum age of children in juvenile detention.
Crucially, the documentary will be followed-up with an official education campaign for teachers and schools led by Reconciliation Australia and the Stronger Smarter Institute to ensure its impact is long-lasting and goes beyond mere awareness.
“This film has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and there were many times we thought we might not have a film, that Dujuan might be in juvenile justice,” says Newell. “So I’m proud we made it to the end. But I’m also proud [that] all the families involved are proud of the film and feel empowered by the telling of this story. And that is no easy feat.”
In My Blood It Runs is screening on Sunday July 5 on ABC and ABC iview.