Before Australians voted for the last time in a referendum About First Nations people in 1967, Uncle Bob Anderson set up a table and chair at a tram stop in central Brisbane.
From his office next to the railroad, he would tell anyone who would stop and listen that Australia He counted his horses, cows, sheep and goats, but not his indigenous people. “My question to you is: do you think they should be?” he would say.
Some 56 years later, the elder Ngugi sat in a chair in the warm Brisbane sun on Sunday, his wispy white hair covered by a straw hat, his presence a sign of support for another referendum on his people.
Nearby, thousands of people gathered for “Walk for Yes” rallies in several cities across Australia ahead of the Oct. 14 vote.
On that day, some 17.5 million registered voters will be asked whether Australia should change the constitution to include a permanent body made up of first nations people to advise the government on matters that affect them.
Anderson, now 94, says voting Yes is not only important for him but for the country.
“As we speak and walk together as a nation and as a society, we will share a common destiny,” he said.
Uncle Bob Anderson campaigned for the last referendum on First Nations rights in 1967.
But with less than four weeks to go until the vote, polls suggest the divide between supporters and opponents in favor of not changing the constitution is widening.
Veteran grassroots Aboriginal activist Wayne Wharton wore the reason for his objections on his T-shirt as he shouted at Yes supporters on a bridge in central Brisbane.
“You are a thief, a liar and a bouncer,” he shouted at a mix of ages and races passing by. “Give back what you stole, give back what you stole, give back what you stole.”
Aboriginal activist Wayne Wharton delivers his message to supporters at the “Walk for Yes” rally in Brisbane on Sunday 17 September.
The 62-year-old Kooma man told CNN by phone that fundamentally people are being asked the wrong question.
“In a well-intentioned and justice-seeking country, this issue would never have been raised or presented. The question that would have been asked would have been a question about (a) treaty or simply an occupation,” he said.
Like Anderson, Wharton remembers the curfews that confined first nations people on the outskirts of town between dusk and dawn, the racial slurs hurled at him and his family, the abuse of his ancestors forced to live on missions, and the theft of First Nations children under assimilation policies that they later prompted a national apology.
Wharton said he wants “liberation, freedom and restitution” through negotiations between the hundreds of Aboriginal nations and the peoples who occupy their lands.
“I have seen a lot of things change in my 60 years, and as the white bigots who created this continent of privilege die, the next generations have a greater sense of equity and justice,” Wharton said.
“I think that in my children’s time a lot of this will be overcome. And that’s why I want to make sure that the door of opportunity will always be there for those people when the opportunity comes to create a just occupation, that the mechanism will be there and that it wouldn’t have been hijacked by some desperate people. In 2023 that changed the constitution.”
Other First Nations people see it differently, including Nick Harvey-Doyle, who at 31 is half Wharton’s age and a third the age of Aboriginal elder Anderson.
From his New York apartment, Harvey-Doyle, an Anaiwan man from New South Wales, co-organized a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, attended by more than 350 people, mostly Australians, calling for a vote for he does.
“I’m from a really small rural town that has about 10,000 people and I think there are about 8,000 Australians in the New York tri-state area. “To me, that almost essentially equates to the votes of an entire rural town,” she said.
Courtesy of Nick Harvey-Doyle
Nick Harvey-Doyle studies in New York and asks for the Yes vote.
Harvey-Doyle is a former lawyer studying at New York University on a Roberta Sykes Scholarship that provides funding for Indigenous students to conduct postgraduate research abroad. Sykes, who died in 2010, was the first black Australian to study at Harvard and fought for the Yes vote in the 1967 referendum.
That referendum, to count indigenous people in Australia’s census figures, passed with more than 90% approval.
Harvey-Doyle implored Australians living overseas to cast their votes to improve the living conditions of First Nations people, who have lagged behind the country’s non-Indigenous population in health and wellbeing statistics for decades. .
“We, as Aboriginal people, do not feel that we have authority over our most intimate and important personal matters,” he said.
“I think Aboriginal people have a different way of life to non-Indigenous people and the current structures and institutions we have don’t always recognize that and aren’t always in the best cultural place to meet our needs.
“Actually, having a body that is enshrined in the constitution and that allows us to empower ourselves, to give advice on our own lives and our own problems is really very important.”
Jonathan PIlkington/YES Campaign
More than 350 people crossed the Brooklyn Bridge in New York to call for a Yes vote in the Australian Voice referendum.
According to the Australian Electoral Commission, as of Sunday, more than 96,000 registered voters were outside Australia, including those living overseas and about 58,000 who notified the commission they will travel on October 14.
While voting is mandatory within Australia, being abroad is considered a valid reason not to vote. More than 100 voting centers will be open around the world to allow people to vote in person or return a mail-in ballot. Voting abroad begins early, on October 2.
To pass, the referendum needs a majority of votes nationwide, as well as a majority of people in at least four states.
Indigenous peoples will not determine the outcome of this vote; That will depend on millions of other non-Indigenous Australians, some of whom oppose indigenous peoples being given a special place over others within the constitution, calling the vote “divisive”.
Wharton says the concept of millions of non-Indigenous voters deciding what is best for 3% of the population is racist in and of itself.
However, Harvey-Doyle says she is wary of the message a no vote would send across the country and beyond.
“If we vote No, it means we are very happy to be apathetic to the poor life outcomes that some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience, and I feel that goes against what it means to be Australian to give everyone a fair life . go,” he said.
“It will be a really sad global position for us if we vote No.”