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Australia Prepares for Controversial National Day

FILE - A cruise ship hangs a large national flag in celebration of Australia National Day, in Sydney Harbour behind the Opera House in Sydney.

Australia commemorates its national day on Sunday (Jan 26). It is a time of mixed feelings. Many indigenous Australians believe the arrival of British settlers more than 230 years ago was an invasion, and insist it is hurtful to celebrate the dispossession of their land. But for millions of people, Australia Day is a time of great pride.

To many indigenous people, January 26, 1788, was the day when their land was taken by the British, led by Captain Arthur Phillip. He was the commander of the First Fleet of 11 British ships, which arrived at Sydney Cove to signal the birth of the colony.

Across the country, Australia Day harbors so many emotions: anger, sadness, pride and celebration. There will be so-called Invasion Day rallies, and well as festivities and parties.

The government body that organizes various community events, the Australia Day Council, said, “The highs and lows of history are commemorated.”

Wesley Enoch, an indigenous artistic director, believes it’s a time of a great complexity.

“The Australia Day Council has used now this three-word slogan where they say ‘reflect, respect and celebrate,’ where they are now saying there are three different functions for that day, which I find to be more coherent with the way I am thinking about the 26th January,” said Enoch.

Australia is the only country in the Commonwealth, a grouping of former British colonies, that does not have a treaty with its indigenous peoples.

Dr. Jackie Huggins, an aboriginal leader in Queensland, believes a formal agreement would help the nation move on from the pain of colonization.

“Truth-telling is about us all having a say in what has happened to our families, to our communities, to the very people who we are today in terms of the history, the dispossession, the massacres," she said. "You know, the unpalatable truths of telling history. So that is really important. Our people felt that is a necessary, a vital component in terms of moving on.”

While Australia Day acknowledges the birth of a modern nation as a British penal colony in 1788, it also reflects on more than 60,000 years of aboriginal history.

There are calls for Australia to change the date of its national day because of indigenous sensitivities, but the government says it will remain on January 26.