Australia will hold a referendum on recognising its indigenous people in the constitution to improve conditions for its most disadvantaged community.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard said there was a "once-in-50-year opportunity" to harness public and parliamentary support for greater recognition.
The 550,000 Indigenous Australians make up 2.7% of the population.
They suffer disproportionately high rates of unemployment, imprisonment, drug abuse, alcoholism and disease.
Ms Gillard, of the centre-left Labor party, said that practical efforts to help Australia's Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders could not succeed without greater respect.
"The Australian constitution is the foundation document of our system of government, but it fails to recognise the special place of our first Australians," she said in a joint statement with the minister for indigenous affairs and the attorney-general.
"Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians is an important step towards building a nation based on strong relationships and mutual respect," she added.
"Recognition will demonstrate that we are a country that is united in acknowledging the unique and special place of our first peoples."
The referendum will ask the country to give constitutional recognition to indigenous people. It is unclear when the vote will take place.
Aboriginal leaders say a positive result would have a "dramatic effect" on the community's self-esteem.
Forty-four referendums have been held in Australia since 1901. Only eight have been passed.