The Australian referendum of 1967 approved amendments to the Australian Constitution which allowed the Federal Government to make special laws that applied to Aboriginal Australians. As a result, since 1967, Australian governments have put in place policies and programs with the aim of achieving positive social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal people. However, over four decades later, the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians is still unacceptably wide. In fact, some studies suggest the gap is actually widening.1
Canada faces similar issues in closing the gap between their indigenous and non-indigenous citizens. While Canada and Australia both enjoy a high ranking on the United Nations Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI)—8th and 4th respectively—their indigenous people are considerably worse off, comparatively sitting at 32nd and 103rd. This situation of Aboriginal people living in Third World conditions highlights the need for urgent action in both countries.
An overview of the history of Aboriginal policy and relations in Australia in comparison to Canada provides a useful context for policymakers in both countries. Some of the negative experiences in Australia can also serve as a warning to governments in Canada, whereby if some of the problems faced in Canadian Aboriginal communities are not addressed soon, drastic interventions may be needed.