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GOLD COAST, Australia – As an opening ceremony featuring symbolic tributes to Australia's indigenous people was getting under way, Aboriginal protesters were gathering outside the Commonwealth Games stadium to get a message across, too.
Flanked and outnumbered by a heavy police presence, about 100 protesters carried banners with the message "Colonisation Is Not A Game" and waved the black, red and yellow Aboriginal flags.
Chanting "No Justice, No Games," they walked up to the stadium at Carrara in the rain on Wednesday night and were ushered by police, via a parking lot and soggy paddock, into a field across the road from the main entrance.
Australian Associated Press reported three protesters were arrested by police as they tried to enter the stadium without tickets.
A smaller group halted the Queen's baton relay briefly earlier Wednesday by blocking a road near Main Beach before the route was amended for the final 14 baton bearers to continue.
The Australian Broadcasting Corp. quoted protester Wayne Wharton saying "We are calling on the Commonwealth heads of every nation that has come here to demand (Prime Minister) Malcolm Turnbull to initiate a truth commission."
The British established colonies in Australia in the late 1700s after declaring it "terra nullius" — owned by no one — despite the presence of Aboriginal people on the island continent for at least 50,000 years.
Today, Aboriginal people make up just three percent of the population of 24 million and are the most disadvantaged ethnic group in Australia by most measures from health, to employment and rates of imprisonment.
Activities, who have dubbed the event as the "Stolenwealth Games" aim to highlight that despite former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's national apology in 2008 to Australia's Aboriginal people for past injustices, progress has been slow on the timetable he set for ending indigenous disadvantage.
Prince Charles, opening the 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games on behalf of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, said "sport can be a great force for good which can help create harmony between communities.
"The ancient stories told by the indigenous people of Australia remind us that even though we may be half a world away, we are all connected," said Charles, reading from a message from Queen Elizabeth.
The Commonwealth Games has brought together 71 nations and territories of the Commonwealth and the opening ceremony was billed as "a celebration of unity, culture and diversity."
The night included a traditional welcome to land by a local indigenous elder and a smoking ceremony near the end, and highlighted imagery, scenes and sounds of the ancient culture.
Opening ceremony artistic director David Zolkwer said the ceremony was inclusive and "how, as the indigenous people of Australia tell us, we are all custodians of the same world."
Indigenous protests also coincided with previous Commonwealth Games in Australia in 1982 at Brisbane and in 2006 in Melbourne.
Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive David Grevemberg told a news conference earlier Wednesday that organizers "welcomed the right to peaceful protest."