Indigenous Australians Plan to Go Bigger on Australia Day

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The Australia Letter is a weekly newsletter from our Australia bureau. Sign up to get it by email. This week’s issue is written by Julia Bergin, a reporter based in the Northern Territory.

Parades, Union Jack themed barbecues, angry protests, and reflective vigils — it’s 2024, and Jan. 26 in Australia remains a day that inspires many different reactions across the nation.

Formally Australia Day but also known as Invasion Day or Survival Day, the date marks the violent arrival of British settlers to the continent in 1788, and it has a long history as a political flashpoint for Indigenous affairs.

This year, a First Nations advocacy group in Darwin decided to go bigger — with a hybrid protest for Indigenous Australians, Palestinians and the people of West Papua, which was annexed by Indonesia decades ago, leading to a prolonged conflict.

“Yes, Invasion Day is the reason why we’re all here today, but we must go beyond that,” said Mililma May, who runs the group, a nonprofit called Uprising of the People.

Ms. May, a Kulumbirigin Danggalaba Tiwi woman, said that what was needed for all groups were practical and tangible ways to understand colonialism. By bringing separate protest movements together with a common goal “to demand land back,” she said she hoped Jan. 26 would unify oppressed groups and appeal to a broader cross-section of Australians.

It’s also an effort meant to bring attention back to unresolved issues.

In the months after the failure of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum — devised to enshrine an Indigenous advisory group in the Australian Constitution — First Nations issues have dropped off the mainstream news agenda and slid down the government’s to-do list.

William Tilmouth, an Arrernte man and a founder of Children’s Ground, a First Nations education organization, said the conversation about Indigenous rights had died down post referendum, making the subject even harder to broach for First Nations people.

“We’re 20 meters behind the starting gun,” he said. “We start from the back and have to run harder just to get up.”

Historically, Jan. 26 has served as a source of momentum for First Nation’s rights, Mr. Tilmouth said, but the referendum’s failure had handicapped Indigenous people this year.

“It’s not talked about much,” he said.

Yet the holiday remains politically contentious. In the weeks leading up to Jan. 26, supporters of Australia Day celebrations took to social media to drum up nationalist sentiment, for example, condemning big business for “anti-Australian” marketing decisions, such as supermarket chains reducing holiday merchandise. (The supermarkets have attributed the reduction to declining demand.)

Mr. Tilmouth maintains that Jan. 26 is a day that could and should be leveraged to promote justice and reconciliation, respect and recognition, rather than a day of celebration. Such values, he said, had application beyond Australia, with racism and oppression — “regardless of who, or where and when” — doing no one any favors.

It was time for humans to start working together, he said: Global warming would be calling the shots from here on.

“Nature really is the great equalizer,” he said.

In Darwin, where a cyclone threatens to drench the city, Ms. May kept close watch on the weather forecast. She expected a few hundred people to turn out in support of the hybrid protest, but knew their planned action was ultimately at the whim of the forces beyond their control.

“A little bit of rain won’t stop us,” she said. “But we’re assuming Country will be on our side.”

Have your views of Australia Day — and how you mark the day — changed over time? Let us know by sending us an email at nytaustralia@nytimes.com.

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Source : Nytimes