In 1935, Evelyn Ruth Backo was born in Ingham, Queensland, Australia; she is the granddaughter of a former slave who was kidnapped from the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu. Early in life Evelyn’s father gave her sound advice about challenging social injustices, he stated “If you don’t think something is right, then challenge it”, and challenge the system is just what she did. Evelyn married a man named Allan Scott who was the first person to introduce her to front line political activism; the seed that Allan planted would soon blossom. In the 1960’s Evelyn would move to Townsville which is a city in Queensland, Australia. While living in Townsville she was able to see indigenous people discriminated against with her own eyes, they faced discrimination in housing, health care, the education system and the employment sector. She witnessed the police abuse its power often by terrorizing the indigenous people. Witnessing these acts led her to becoming acquainted with her future mentor Joe McGuiness and fellow Townsville political activist Eddie Mabo. She worked at the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League; the league was formed in 1957 to address issues of employment, housing, health and education.
One of the issues Evelyn and the league faced was fighting the unjust Aborigines Protection Act, an act the declared aboriginals as minors who needed to be protected by the government, the act also stripped the people of their political rights. In 1967, she helped campaign for the Australian referendum which approved the amendments of sections 51 and 127 of the Australian constitution. The amendments stated that the aboriginals were now considered as a part of the Australian population and the federal parliament could create legislation specifically for the aboriginals. In 1971, she became an active member of the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI), an organization where she served as the first general-secretary and vice-president. Equipped with a sound strategy, in 1973, the FCAATSI became an organization led by the ingenious people of Australia. She was a member of the National Aboriginal and Islander Council, the first national women’s organization founded in the 1970’s. Evelyn’s activism also extended to protecting her environment; helping to create protection for the Great Barrier Reef and the land she became a member of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority during the 1980’s.
In 1977, Evelyn was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal to acknowledge her work towards the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights. She was appointed as the Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the 1990’s; at that time the challenge was the federal government actively cutting funding for the reconciliation. In 2003, she received the Queensland Greats award for her life-long work of fighting for the rights of aboriginal people. The Australian Catholic University awarded Evelyn an honorary doctorate degree in 2000, and James Cook University awarded her an honorary degree in 2001. Later in 2001 Evelyn was awarded as an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia; the award is an order of chivalry established on February 14, 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognize Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service.
Evelyn was a true fighter for her people and she truly loved to company of her people. She had the ability to rub shoulders with dignitaries from across the world, but still found time to build with the indigenous people the white supremacist tried to destroy. Fishing was known to be one of her favorite activities when she wasn’t fighting for her people. Evelyn Scott died on September 21, 2017 at the age of 81 and her funeral was held as a state funeral; she was the first indigenous women to have a state funeral. Evelyn was determined to create change for the indigenous people of Australia as well as challenging the apartheid the black faced in South Africa. She gave herself to her people so the future of the indigenous people would be a future free of white supremacy. Evelyn Scott, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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