National NAIDOC Poster. Photo: https://www.naidoc.org.au/resources/
NAIDOC week (4th-11th July) is commemorated each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The NAIDOC week committee says this year's theme, 'Heal Country, heal our nation,' highlights the need for more robust measures to 'recognize, protect and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.' The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) adopted the theme for the celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday on July 4th. NATSICC states, 'today, the world is in need of healing – environmentally, spiritually and socially, and we must all come together as a global community to fight the injustices of inequality, racism and environmental damage.'
St Columbans Mission Society as a member of Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), supports the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, including the Enshrinement of an Indigenous Voice in the Australian Constitution. In their Media Release of April 2021, CRA state they 'urged the government to select and implement proposed models of an Indigenous Voice in full consultation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.' CRA advocate for a 'spirit of openness to listen to and join with our Indigenous sisters and brothers in their call for voice, for treaty and truth-telling telling of our shared past.' In her article for the 2021 Autumn Edition of Australian Catholics, Sherry Balcombe, Leader of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Melbourne, states, 'Treaty can give us dignity. It can help us decide what we need. It can help restore our culture, our ceremonies, our rituals and find new hope for the future. It can give our young people pride in who they are.' Sherry also states, 'At the heart of injustice towards First Nations peoples is the lack of a Treaty.' Sherry highlights that opportunities to experience and learn from the rich depth of Aboriginal heritage go hand-in-hand with forging a pathway together by addressing these deep wounds.
Pope Francis advocates in many ways for the rights of the world's Indigenous Peoples. In his 2015 Encyclical letter Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home, Pope Francis says of Indigenous Peoples:
‘They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren.' #179
In 2016, the Pope sent a message of hope and blessing to Australia's Indigenous Community on the 30th Anniversary of Pope St John Paul 11's 1986 visit to Alice Springs and his historic address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Pope Francis expressed his 'deep esteem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their ancient cultural heritage' in commemoration of the visit. The Pope echoed Pope St John Paul 11's words that Aboriginal culture offers much to the church and the world.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council states, ‘2021 is the 250th Anniversary of the arrival of Christianity in Australia. Yet the Spirit of God was poured out onto the original inhabitants of this Great Southern Land, many, many thousands of years prior. God's Spirit could be heard through the singing of the birds, the cascade of the waterfall, the rustle of the wind and most importantly in silence.'
NATSICC invite all Australians to come together and 'be united in a fight to save God's creation. It is one we cannot fight alone. We must combine the knowledge of First Australians with the technology borne of Western culture to ensure that future generations shall have the opportunity to experience the gifts of God's creation as intended.'
Later this year, there will be two meetings of the United Nations focusing on the critical need for the global community to take better care of the environment. At the Convention on Biological Diversity that will take place in Kunming China October 11-24, a new framework will be agreed upon with targets for the coming decade for countries to raise their ambition and commitment to protect, conserve and restore the variety of life necessary for the flourishing of all. Echoing the words of Pope Francis about the principal role that Indigenous people have in decisions about their traditional lands, the President of the United Nations Assembly on Biodiversity in 2020 stated, "Indigenous peoples must play a central role in the conceptualization and implementation" of this framework. Columban missionaries live and work alongside Indigenous Peoples and local communities worldwide and advocate with them for their rights on critical perspectives in developing greater protections for the planet and all peoples into the future.
Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM is a team member of the Columban Peace, Ecology & Justice office in Australia.
- Read more from the current Columban eBulletin