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‘Momentum is building’: high hopes for an Indigenous voice to parliament as Garma festival starts | Garma festival

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Momentum is building for an Indigenous voice to be enshrined in the constitution, an Uluru Statement from the Heart leader says, as the annual Garma festival begins in the Northern Territory.

The opportunity for a voice to parliament has arrived and if it is missed it may not return for another generation, Wiradjuri man Geoff Scott warned on Friday.

“It has been something that’s been developing over 30 years and the time is right now for change,” Scott said.

Garma festival
The annual Garma festival is held at Gulkula, a significant ceremonial site for the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

“Momentum is building. We are on the verge of something very monumental and spectacular.”

Scott said a voice to parliament would help Indigenous people focus on closing the gap – and every Australian should want that. “We do not want to lose another generation. That is what the voice is about,” he said.

Aboriginal, political and corporate leaders arrived throughout Friday at Garma, the nation’s largest Indigenous gathering, in north-east Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.

Garma festival
Liberal MP Julian Leeser and Labor senator Patrick Dodson attend the festival. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The four-day celebration of the Yolngu people’s cultural, artistic and ceremonial traditions is expected to draw 2,000 guests, including the prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

The annual event, held in Gulkula, a significant ceremonial site on the Gove Peninsula, also provides a platform for the corporate and not-for-profit sectors to engage with First Nations people.

Hundreds of participants have arrived at the massive tent-covered site deep in the bush, including the US ambassador, Caroline Kennedy. They have listened to Indigenous educators talk about the creation of homeland schools with curriculums relevant to First Nations students.

“We are looking forward to the future,” principal Bulpunu Mununggurr said as she announced the expansion of a local homeland school to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Indigenous academic Marcia Langton called for all students to be better educated about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “Why are Australian children denied 65,000 years of history and culture?” she said. “Every Australian student is entitled to know the truth about our country.”

Garma festival
Ceremonial dancing at the opening ceremony. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

The NT chief minister, Natasha Fyles, is due to address the festival followed by the official opening with a Bungul or Yolngu ceremony.

Albanese will be joined by the Indigenous Australians minister, Linda Burney, and Senator Patrick Dodson, the special envoy for reconciliation and the implementation of the Uluru statement.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and other Uluru statement leaders are also attending, along with federal opposition spokesman for Indigenous affairs, Julian Leeser.

This year’s festival will be the 22nd gathering after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid pandemic. Albanese is the first prime minister to visit since Malcolm Turnbull in 2017.

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