SYDNEY Australian Aboriginal leaders agreed on Friday to seek treaties with national and state governments as preferable to symbolic acknowledgement of the indigenous minority in Australia’s constitution.
Australia has struggled for decades to reconcile with Aborigines, who arrived on the continent some 50,000 years before British colonists, and the government only issued a formal apology for past injustices in 2008.
Aborigines, who comprise about 700,000 people in a population of 23 million have tracked near the bottom in almost every economic and social indicator, suffering disproportionately high rates of suicide, alcohol abuse, domestic violence and imprisonment.
Some 250 Aboriginal leaders have been meeting at the sacred monolith landmark of Uluru in central Australia to decide how they should be recognized.
The scope of the treaties they agreed to seek was not clear, but the leaders said on Friday treaties would be preferable to symbolic charter change.
They said in a communique they did not want cosmetic changes to the constitution “rather constitutional reform that makes a real difference in their communities”.
The near-unanimous agreement to seek treaties came after divisions and walkouts by some delegates over the value of altering Australia’s founding document.
The government had no immediate response.
A treaty would be a legal agreement between the government and indigenous people, which could eventually form the basis of reparations for past injustices.
Constitutional recognition would formally acknowledge Australia’s first inhabitants and could remove the government’s ability to make different laws for indigenous and non-indigenous people.
Changing the constitution requires approval in a referendum, with a majority of votes in a majority of states – a rare feat achieved only 8 times in 44 attempts since 1901.
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