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Why the importance of AFLW's Indigenous Round goes beyond guernsey designs

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Following an avalanche of club and AFL statements in response to widespread racial vilification in 2022, how players and fans can be protected from such abuse is as important as ever ahead of this year's AFLW Indigenous Round.

To be played across Rounds 3 and 4, and the first ever Dreamtime match between Richmond and Essendon set to make history at ETU Stadium, the timing couldn't be better.

Throughout the 2022 AFL season, Richmond pair Maurice Rioli Jr and Marlion Pickett, Fremantle's Michael Frederick and Michael Walters, and Melbourne star Kysaiah Pickett were among a plethora of players who were subjected to racist online trolling.

Adam Saad, the AFL's only Muslim player, has also seen his share of hurtful comments, responding simply with "these things shouldn't be said."

With the issue seemingly forcing a different club to have to defend their players every week, the importance of the AFLW Indigenous Round cannot be understated.

Adelaide Crows Eloise Jones said the dedicated two rounds draws attention to the issue and highlights that the clubs, and the broader league, won't stand for it.

"It's pretty saddening to see and hopefully throughout Indigenous Round, we are able to highlight and celebrate the culture in a positive form," she told ESPN.

"We really hope we can get to everyone and change their minds if they do happen to have a certain mindset, we want to make sure we can put a positive spin on all of this.

"I think it's really fantastic that each club has been doing such a great job of calling it out because, we're not going to change if we don't call it out and just let it simmer. Whether that be a male or a female player, it's really important that we do show that these players have our support and we're not going to accept any racial vilification or anything like that."

Her club is trying to be at the forefront, as it's the first time in Adelaide's history that the club's AFL, AFLW and SANFL sides are all wearing an Indigenous guernsey with the same design in the same season.

The design highlights the coming together of the men's and women's teams on their reconciliation journey, the Aboriginal adaptation of the crow sits at the centre of the guernsey, with the Kaurna shield perched proudly on its chest.

The male and female hands which make up the wings of the crow and the fingerprints on the feathers which wrap around the guernsey represent the imprint players, staff, members and supporters have left on the club over its journey.

The guernsey was designed by Eastern Arrernte man Pat Caruso, bringing him in to assist and help the club in their learnings of the broader Indigenous community.

Jones said not being Indigenous herself has meant there's been a lot of extra learning she's had to open herself up to, particularly with teammate Danielle Ponter, a huge advocate for Indigenous inclusion across the game.

Both Ponter's grandfather, who is from the Anmatyerre tribe in the Ti Tree regions north of Alice Springs, and grandmother, from the Maranunggu tribe in the Daly River region, were part of the Stolen Generations and placed in a mission on the Tiwi Islands.

"I'm someone who likes to ask questions, whether they be about the culture of a family or something else, and the way [Ponter] explains it is wonderful," Jones said.

"The commentary some players receive doesn't just hurt the individual, it hurts close families, friends, communities, they can definitely all feel that, unfortunately, you could probably ask any Indigenous person today, and they'd be able to give you a story of when they were racially abused or something like that, which is, which is really awful to think.

"We are about to change the future to make sure [footy] is an inclusive sport that makes anyone feel safe and warm and welcome, it's something we are working towards in both the men and the women's space - we're one club."

The AFL has announced Aunty Pam Pederson as this year's AFLW Indigenous Round Honouree in recognition of her contribution to her community and the football industry. Aunty Pam is the third woman to be recognised as the Indigenous Round Honouree, joining Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO who was the Honouree in Season Five and Alicia Janz who was the Honouree in Season Six.

For the first time, all eighteen AFLW clubs will wear specially designed Indigenous Round guernseys across Rounds 3 and 4, as well as the umpires who will wear uniforms designed by two students from Worawa Aboriginal College. The design is a collaboration of two separate pieces of artwork by current students Kyanna McIntosh and Kylinda Alice.

Additionally, the Sherrins used across Indigenous Round feature a new design created by Jennifer 'Lulu' Coomes in the traditional Tiwi style, featuring a spear representing strength; armbands representing culture; footprints that acknowledge the past, present and future Indigenous men and women who have walked the AFL path as players or volunteers; and a Kulama design, which means a celebration of life past present and future.