Thousands marched through cities across Australia, rallying in support of Indigenous rights and protesting the marking of their country’s national day on the date the British colonial fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor more than two centuries ago.
In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – large crowds gathered in the city’s central business district on Thursday, some carrying Aboriginal flags and chanting “Australia Day is dead”.
Indigenous activist Paul Silva has said the national holiday – which some call “invasion day” – should be abolished.
“If someone invaded your home, murdered your family and stole your land, I can 100% guarantee that the family would not be celebrating that day,” he told the crowd.
“I don’t know how it makes sense for a citizen of this country to go out and have a barbecue and celebrate the genocide,” he said.
Indigenous poet Lizzie Jarrett said Sydney was “ground zero for a genocide of First Nations people”.
“Do you think we are angry? Wouldn’t you be angry? she asked the crowd.
— Zac Crellin (@zaccrellin) January 26, 2023
Indigenous Australians have lived on the Australian mainland for at least 65,000 years, but have suffered widespread discrimination and oppression since the arrival of the British in 1788. Australian historian Lyndall Ryan estimated that over 10,000 Indigenous people were killed in 400 separate massacres since the arrival of the British. colonization has begun.
Currently, some 880,000 of Australia’s 25 million people identify as Indigenous.
They were banned from voting in some states and territories until the 1960s and lag behind other Australians on economic and social indicators in what the government calls “entrenched inequality”.
Their life expectancy is also several years lower than other Australians and they suffer from disproportionately high rates of suicide, domestic violence and are much more likely to die in police custody.
In Australia’s capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese marked Australia Day with a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in which he honored the country’s indigenous people.
“Let us all recognize the unique privilege we have of sharing this continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture,” the Prime Minister said.
But while acknowledging it was a ‘difficult day’ for Indigenous Australians, he said there were no plans to change the date of the holiday.
A moving welcome ceremony to the countryside and smokers this morning in Canberra. pic.twitter.com/cP72s5Rj4f
—Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) January 25, 2023
An annual poll by market research firm Roy Morgan released this week showed nearly two-thirds of Australians believe January 26 should be considered ‘Australia Day’, largely unchanged from one year ago. The others think it should be “invasion day”.
Amid the debate, some companies have embraced flexibility around respecting holidays. Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, this year gave staff the option of working on January 26 and taking another day off instead.
“For many First Nations people, Australia Day…marks a turning point that has seen lives lost, a culture devalued and connections between people and places destroyed,” wrote Vicki Brady, Chief Executive. from Telstra, on LinkedIn.
Protests against Australia Day have also taken place in other Australian state capitals, including Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.
Al Jazeera’s Sarah Clarke, reporting from the rally in Brisbane, said momentum to abolish Australia Day had grown over the years.
“People here say it’s a day of mourning,” she said. “They are coming together to protest the celebrations of modern Australia on a day when they believe there has been a huge displacement of First Nations people. So this group is definitely growing. Polls have shown that younger generations are increasingly in favor of this.
This year’s holiday also comes as the centre-left Albanese Labor Party government plans a referendum on recognition of indigenous peoples in the country’s constitution and demands consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.
The public will vote on the change – called the Indigenous Voice in Parliament – in a binding referendum later this year.
There is currently no mention of Indigenous Australians in the constitution, which was passed in 1901. And the proposal to recognize Indigenous Australians in the charter was a pledge the Labor Party made at a general election last May , when he ended nearly a decade of Conservative Liberal government. – National coalition government.
But changing the constitution is difficult, requiring majority votes in a majority of states.
The feat has only happened eight times in 44 attempts since the federation was founded in 1901.
A successful referendum would bring Australia into line with Canada, New Zealand and the United States in officially recognizing indigenous populations.
Some Indigenous Australians have also voiced their opposition to the proposal.
Several people at the Sydney Invasion Day rally carried a banner that read, “Vote No in the Referendum. We deserve more than a voice.
In Melbourne, Indigenous activist Uncle Gary Foley said “the voice” would only be “cosmetic”.
“Like lipstick on a pig, it won’t solve the deep underlying issues that still permeate Australian society and that main issue is white Australian racism,” he said.