Aboriginal activists keep up 50-year protest for a voice

STORY: They're keeping up their fight for a voice from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, a campsite near the Old Parliament House in Australia's capital city of Canberra and the world's longest running protest.

Residing ambassador Murrigal Coe is among the Aboriginal people stationed there, as his father was when the protest began in 1972, aiming to bring awareness to the government's stance on land rights.

“This will continue until we don't have to be here no more. Until a time when the government realises what they've got to give back to our people,” Coe told Reuters in early May.

The call for a referendum emerged from an Indigenous convention in 2017 at the sacred landmark Uluru that brought together over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders. Changes to the constitution require a national referendum in Australia.

Long time Indigenous rights activist and current resident of the Tent Embassy, Gwenda Stanley, says it’s time for all Indigenous residents of Australia to be consulted on their own rights.

"We are still homeless, we are landless. We're the most incarcerated in our own country, yet the government and everyone thinks it's just okay to just push it to the side,” Stanley, who is from the Gomeroi people, told Reuters.

"The whole point of this embassy being here, is to remind the government and the rest of the world that we are still oppressed people in this country," she added.

Indigenous Australians were given citizenship after a 1967 referendum but there's been little social reform since.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation recently reported that new data shows 73% of Australians agreed "strongly" or "somewhat" that there should be constitutional change to give Indigenous Australians a greater say over their lives. This was higher than the 64% voters agreeing on a referendum in the 2019 election.

James Blackwell, a research fellow in Indigenous Diplomacy at the Australian National University and belonging to the Wiradyuri nation of central New South Wales, says a successful referendum would bring Australia in line with Canada, New Zealand and the United States as formally recognising their Indigenous populations.

"As three percent of the Australian population we are required to seek the consensus of the majority... it's disappointing in many aspects that, yes, we have to keep coming back begging for rights, begging for recognition. But it is the way our system works," said Blackwell.

Veteran activist Aunty Jenny Munro, who walked out of the 2017 Uluru convention, said the issue was not canvassed properly by the Aboriginal people, adding that it cannot be solved if isn't discussed properly.

"Racism is so embedded in this society. We need to be able to talk that through honestly and come to a resolution that suits both sides, not just a resolution that favours the interests of white Australia," Munro told Reuters from the tent embassy.

Despite being just 3% of the nation's population, Indigenous Australians track at the bottom on almost all economic and social indicators and suffer disproportionately high rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and imprisonment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to back calls for a referendum and instead said his government would create new legislation to address the concerns of Aboriginal people.

The opposition Labor Party has promised it would push ahead with a referendum if elected.

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