Australian Indigenous Reject ‘Symbolic Gestures’ in Constitutional Recognition Debate
Almost 300 community leaders from Indigenous Australian communities are meeting in Uluru for a four-day long meeting to discuss the constitutional recognition of Australia’s Indigenous. The leaders have made it clear that they would not accept any “symbolic gestures” that would not make any concrete, substantial changes for their community.
On Thursday, at least 50 of the leaders had walked out of the meeting in protest of a proposed plan, Reuters reported. The details of the contested proposal have not yet been made clear.
“It needs to be substantial: what actually changes then in terms of the statistical deficits of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in those socio-economic factors, in levels of health, incarceration, education?” Nolan Hunter, a Bardi delegate from the Dampier peninsula, and chief executive of the Kimberley Land Council said according to The Guardian.
For Hunter, as well as many of the leaders present, the focus in the meeting should be on concrete results rather than forms and rhetorical gestures.
Many leaders have suggested that “substantive reform” must be more than a statement of acknowledgement in the constitution, and include such measures as a constitutional prohibition on racial discrimination, the creation of an elected Indigenous body with constitutional power, or the creation of a treaty.
In Australia’s population of 23 million, there are around 700,000 Indigenous people. They face extremely high rates of poverty, imprisonment, and social discrimination.
For many of Australia’s Indigenous, conditions have only deteriorated over time. “Aboriginal affairs is in freefall and there’s no bottom to it. We are powerless and voiceless in our own lives,” the Referendum Council Chairwoman, Pat Anderson, told the Guardian.
In the past, Australia’s Indigenous communities were administered under fauna and flora laws, according to Reuters.