Thousands yesterday rallied against the mistreatment of indigenous people across Australia as citizenship ceremonies took place to mark the country’s national day.
The public holiday marks the date a British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor in 1788 to start a penal colony, viewing the land as unoccupied, despite encountering settlements.
For many indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, it is “Invasion Day.”
Many protesters at rallies across cities dressed in black to mourn the day, with some carrying the Aboriginal flag and “change the date” signs.
Some protests were organized online due to concerns of surging COVID-19 cases.
A monument depicting James Cook, who arrived in the Pacific 252 years ago, triggering British colonization of the region, was doused in red paint overnight in Melbourne.
Speaking at a citizenship and national flag-raising ceremony in the capital, Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison honored the traditional custodians of the country.
“We recognize indigenous peoples right across our land from the Torres Strait Islander people in the north, to the people in Tasmania, to the people across the Nullarbor in Perth and the Larrakia people in the Top End,” Morrison said.
“Like the country itself, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, they’re unique and they connect us through time,” he added.
While the holiday remains contentious, a poll by market research company Roy Morgan this week showed that nearly two-thirds of Australians say that Jan. 26 should be considered “Australia Day.” The rest say it should be “Invasion Day.”
Australia’s about 700,000 indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million population in almost every economic and social indicator. Often living in remote communities, they also have been at greater risk from COVID-19.
Most of the about 200 indigenous communities spread across Western Australia are closed to tourists and travelers.
The main indigenous health body of Central Australia, a vast outback region in the Northern Territory centered on the town of Alice Springs, on Tuesday called for a “complete lockdown” of the area to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Northern Territory, home to about 247,000 people, yesterday recorded 492 new infections, bringing the total number of active cases to 3,208, with 84 people in hospitals.
The country yesterday recorded at least 87 fatalities from the virus, the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day since the start of the pandemic, as the highly-infections Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 tore through the country.
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