World Day of Indigenous People - Photo:canva.com
Indigenous peoples around the world express pride in their cultures, which have been handed down to them over generations. Despite laws made by colonizers to make it illegal, throughout the centuries, Indigenous peoples have continued to speak their languages and practice their ceremonies and other cultural practices. In 2022, a key focus for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, is the role of women in the preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge. Indigenous women are the backbone of communities. They are the primary carers and protectors of their peoples and cultural heritage and are keepers of knowledge about properly caring for nature. The international day also acknowledges women’s advocacy at the global level for the collective rights of Indigenous peoples everywhere.
International mechanisms to promote the rights and freedoms of Indigenous peoples have been set in place since the first International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in 1982. These mechanisms include the 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration emphasizes the right of Indigenous peoples to live in dignity, maintain and strengthen their own institutions, cultures and traditions, and pursue their self-determined development. Under the Declaration, nations are committed to undertake effective measures, in consultation and cooperation with Indigenous peoples, to combat prejudice, eliminate discrimination and promote good relations between all members of society.
It is an outrage that Indigenous peoples continue to face compounding layers of poverty and marginalization in daily life. Colonization and the dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ lands and cultures have caused inter-generational pain and harms. The impacts of trauma are heightened by ongoing discrimination and racism. Indigenous women are further impacted by multiple expressions of violence and discrimination.
The Fifth Plenary Council of the Catholic Church in Australia has formally acknowledged that “the Catholic Church in Australia has been caught up in the history of dispossession, Stolen Generations, racism, and the undermining of language and culture.” At the final Assembly in July this year, the members of the Plenary Council apologized for these harms and committed to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards recognition, reconciliation and justice. The Plenary Council also endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart and encourages engagement with processes for its implementation and truth-telling efforts at local and national levels. Regional Director of Oceania, Columban Fr Trevor Trotter was a member of the Plenary Council.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) were represented by seven members at the Plenary Council, six of whom were women. The Plenary Council endorsed the recommendations made by NATSICC, which focused on an open embrace of the gift and contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s spirituality, discipleship and leadership in the Church. The endorsed recommendations include appropriate acknowledgement of Country, the use of symbols and rituals in liturgies, cross-cultural competency for Church personnel, training to support Indigenous ministry and inclusive committees and decision-making bodies. The Plenary Council acknowledged our society is “yet to fully recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands and waters now known as Australia, or to achieve right relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities." The voice of the Church commits to steps towards reconciliation.
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon