World Indigenous Day Sunday 9 August – the perfect time to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Australian Human Rights Commission – Friday, 7 August 2009

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be the central players in developing policies that affect them, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma said today, ahead of International Day of the World’s Indigenous People this Sunday, (9 August).

“The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People has been celebrated on 9 August since 1994 in order to strengthen international efforts to find solutions to problems faced by Indigenous people in education, culture, health and human rights, to name just a few areas,” Commissioner Calma said.

“We are not immune from these challenges in Australia and I urge us all to keep our eye on the ball and continue to build on the giant steps forward we’ve recently taken as a nation in relation to our Indigenous people.

“We have witnessed the healing affect of the National Apology on the whole nation and we have opened the door to new and more respectful relationships with our First Nation’s peoples,” he said.

“And in April we saw the watershed moment in history when the federal government formally support the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“Yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples remain marginalised in Australia and face entrenched poverty and ongoing discrimination on a daily basis.

“We need to step up to the mark and put the Declaration to immediate use by ensuring it guides and articulates minimum standards for governments to use in addressing those areas where Australia’s Indigenous people still face inequality – whether it’s the discriminatory elements remaining in the Northern Territory intervention or the continuing inequality in health standards which allows Aboriginal children to die at almost three times the rate of non-Indigenous children,” Mr Calma said.

“Indigenous people must be involved in the policies and programs which impact on their futures.”

Mr Calma said the forthcoming establishment of a new national representative body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be a concrete step in implementing Article 18 of the Declaration and offered Australia’s Indigenous people a ray of hope for genuine participation in decision-making that affected them.

“We are now in the Second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples and the 19th year of this International Day, I think it is fair to say Australia has made some major inroads,” Commissioner Calma said.

“However, we will not have provided solutions to all the challenges we face until Indigenous people have true participation and are real partners in efforts to Close the Gap in health, education, housing and have access to the same human rights protections as other Australians.”

The General Assembly of the United Nations decided on 23 December 1994, to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People on 9 August every year during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People and this has extended through the Second International Decade proclaimed in 2004.