ACT News

Day of mourning and hope at Canberra's Aboriginal Tent Embassy

While people across the country celebrated Australia Day with barbecues, baby pools and the Triple J Hottest 100 countdown, indigenous and non-indigenous Australians at Canberra's Aboriginal Tent Embassy united in a national day of mourning.

Some called it Invasion Day. Others dubbed it Survival Day.

All came with one key message - recognising the sovereignty of indigenous Australians.

Hundreds of marchers trekked from Civic to Old Parliament House Monday morning, their chants of "always was, always will be Aboriginal land" growing louder.

Police escorted the rally across Commonwealth Bridge with congested traffic crawling behind the march as it inched towards its destination.

One marcher, Tony Reid, paused with his Aboriginal flag to say, "a lot of things are still being swept under the carpet" and the day was important for the Aboriginal flag.

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Ngunnawal elder Aunty Agnes Shea addressed the marchers as they arrived at the tent embassy.

"We've got to keep the fire burning and keep going along to make everyone listen to what we have to say in our country," she said.

Elder Les Coe, an organiser of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, said numbers were good but the group wanted to "put the Australian Government on notice".

"We want our freedom and we're not going to stop until we realise what that is. It seems to be quite an elusive thing, something we need to grab hold of," he said.

"The Aboriginal people are just fed up, we're sick of it - no more lies, no more handouts, no more dangling handouts in front of us and empty promises."

The afternoon involved a peaceful sit-in blanketed with colour and chatterĀ alongside workshops, music and the 2015 Isabell Coe Memorial Sovereignty Lecture.

The embassy was also the site of the second meeting of the Freedom Summit, an elected indigenous body formed in November.

Wiradjuri elder and spokeswoman Jenny Coe said the day was about the recognition of sovereignty through a united voice.

"We are trying to talk with one voice - the ones the Australian government is listening to are not the voices of our people," she said.

"We own this land. We've had to fight this battle for the last 227 years because we were illegally occupied.

"If we start talking and going down the road where we are a free and equal people, then we might be able to build a nation on those building blocks."

Ben Taylor Cuiermara travelled all the way from Perth to Canberra to participate and discuss issues facing indigenous Australians.

"I've suffered racism for 60 years in Western Australia - it's still alive and well," he said.

Nat Keene, who is not indigenous, travelled from Alice Springs to stand in solidarity.

"It's a shame we aren't united on this day, recognising the past and looking forward to the future together," she said.

"It's good to see so many people from all around Australia here. There's strength in happiness and unity."

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