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Asia Minute

Asia Minute: Australia to Vote on Recognition of Indigenous People

Photo: Lachlan Fearnley
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Wikimedia Commons

It’s been eight years since a state law took effect recognizing Native Hawaiians as “the only indigenous . . . population of Hawai’i.” In Australia, the government is promising to move ahead with a different kind of recognition for its own native people.

Australia’s government plans to hold a nationwide vote within three years on recognizing indigenous people in the country’s constitution. The right of center government is looking for a bi-partisan deal to stage a national referendum.

The precise wording is still under consideration — as well as what exactly this will mean for the roughly 3.3% of Australia’s population that identifies as indigenous.

Ken Wyatt is the Minister for Indigenous Australians, and he said the goal is “the development of a local, regional and national voice.”

Two years ago, more than 250 indigenous leaders held a summit not only calling for recognition, but also for an advisory role to parliament — something that activists have been calling for since the creation of the constitution in 1901.

According to academic estimates, indigenous people were living in Australia for more than 65,000 years before the British colonized the land in the 1780’s. As with indigenous people around the world, in Australia they face shorter life spans than other residents and greater chances of disease, homelessness and incarceration.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted an opposition senator as saying the announcement came with “plenty of goodwill,” but he urged the government to act faster than three years — asking his legislative colleagues to “embark on the cross-party affiliations to make this happen.”

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