Indigenous Peoples in Australia keeping fingers crossed on eve of referendum on a Constitutional amendment

It’s a vote on changes to Australia’s Constitution, which will mean creating an Indigenous voice in the country’s Parliament.

Before Australians head to the polls this weekend, Australia’s Indigenous Network presenter, Natalie Ahmat, joined Annette Francis on Nation to Nation to discuss what the referendum is all about.

“We’ve been having a conversation about Constitution recognition of Indigenous nations in this country for quite a while now, she said.

Indigenous people are currently not mentioned in Australia’s Constitution. As well, a yes vote would create an Indigenous advisory board, known in Australia as The Voice.

Ahmat said it would be made up of representatives from across the country.

“It would purely be an advisory body that would have a direct line to government and the executive office to advise on matters affecting Aboriginal, Torres Straight Islander people, and communities in this country.”

Ahmat said, it would give them the right to participate in decisions that affect them, and advocate for improved human rights.

“Having it enshrined in the constitution would ensure that future governments cannot get rid of it,” she said.

Like in Canada, Indigenous Peoples in Australia have worse outcomes when it comes to health, employment, education, incarceration and suicide.

Current opinion polls suggest that The Voice will be rejected, although Ahmet says surveys have shown 83 per cent of Indigenous Peoples support it.

“It would certainly be a sense of rejection if Australians chose not to recognize us in the Constitution through a voice to Parliament.”

Rift between the Wolastoqey Nation and New Brunswick government

Earlier this week six Wolastoqey chiefs sent an open letter to Premier Blaine Higgs and slammed him for an overhaul in New Brunswick’s Department of Indigenous Affairs done without any consultation.

Chief Alan Polchies of St. Mary’s First Nation said the relationship with the previous government had been on a path forward, but with this current government it’s been like taking two steps back.

“The current premier does not understand the Indian Act for one, nor does he want to take time to understand our culture,” he said. “He thinks we’re just like any mainstream society, which we’re not.”

And as a Wolastoqey land claim makes it way through the courts, Polchies said Higgs is fear mongering by leading New Brunswickers on to believe that private property is at risk of being taken away.

“If you own the land, that is your land, of course we’re going to honour that. So, I want to be very clear, the only land we’ll be acquiring is that land that was given to like forestry companies that, of course, have taken natural resources away from us,” he said.

New NDP government in Manitoba

And finally, Manitoba NDP MLA Bernadette Smith sat down with Nation to Nation and discussed the issues Wab Kinew’s government will be setting as a priority and what it means for reconciliation.

“This government under Wab Kinew’s premiership is ready to get to work and that action means, getting to work and getting people housed and off the street and living in dignity and not living in bus shelters, making sure people have access to addictions supports,” she said.

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