The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ speaks all languages.
It esteems and embraces all cultures.
It supports them in everything human and, when necessary, it purifies them.
Always and everywhere the Gospel uplifts and enriches cultures with the revealed message of a loving and merciful God.’ Pope John Paul ll
This Sunday is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday for Catholics it marks the start of NAIDOC Week (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee). The week is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and an opportunity to recognise the contributions of Indigenous Australians in various fields.
The theme of NAIDOC week in 2013 is “We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963” This marks 50 years since the Yirrkala Bark petitions were submitted to the Federal Government. In 1963 the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in northeast Arnhem Land were seeking recognition of their traditional rights and ownership of the land. This petition helped shape the recognition of the traditional owners of Australia and led to the reforms of the 1967 constitutional referendum, the acknowledgment of Aboriginal land rights in 1976, and the overturning of ‘terra nullius ‘in the Mabo Case in 1992.
In that vein the Australian Catholic Bishops have released a statement to mark this Sunday, “Living the Gospel of Hope” In the words of the bishops;
“Perhaps the greatest realization we might come to as a faithful people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous together, is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples not only have a rightful place in Australian society but they have a uniquely important contribution to make that will enrich our lives, our nation and our Church.”
In their statement the Bishops remind us of the real consequences of the failure to acknowledge that rightful place. Indigenous peoples of Australia suffer from over-representation in the legal system, high rates of substance abuse, high rates of self harm and suicide rates and overcrowded housing that leads to poorer outcomes in health, child protection, family security, education and employment.
In order to address these issues, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2008 committed to Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage through 6 targets;
- Closing the life expectancy gap within a generation (by 2031)
- Halving the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade (by 2018)
- Ensuring all Indigenous four-year olds in remote communities have access to early childhood education within five years (by 2013)
- Halving the gap for Indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy within a decade (by 2018)
- Halving the gap for Indigenous people aged 20–24 in Year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates (by 2020)
- Halving the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade (by 2018).
According to the latest report to COAG “Indigenous Reform 2011–12: Comparing performance across Australia” on these targets, Australia is on track to halve the gap in child death rates by 2018. In 2011, 91% of Indigenous children in remote communities were enrolled in a preschool program in the year before formal schooling. This result is close to COAG’s target. And the rate of Indigenous Year 12 or equivalent attainment as a whole is on track to halve this gap by 2020.
However only the Northern Territory is on track to close the gap in Indigenous death rates within a generation. Looking at the five-State total, in 2011, Indigenous peoples died at nearly twice the rate of non-Indigenous peoples. From 2006 to 2011, the employment gap widened on three measures—employment, unemployment and labour force participation. Only NSW reduced the gap in the employment rate in the period 2006–2011. The post school qualifications gap widened in Australia and most jurisdictions, but narrowed slightly in NSW and the ACT.
In the 2012–2013Social Justice statement The Gift of Family in Difficult Times, the Australian Bishops said that “Australia has a duty to provide justice to Indigenous Australians by creating jobs, safe environments for children and access to education and health facilities. This must be based on true consultation and partnership, respect for traditional culture and identity and a thorough understanding of the particular needs of each community”
This is not some duty of abstract governments and policy makers but rather a duty that all Australians have to our First Nation Peoples. In order to achieve this we need to try to understand;
- Who are the Aboriginal people in our area?
- If there are none there now, what happened to those who used to live there?
- What Indigenous language is or was spoken in our area?
- What Indigenous cultural activities happen in your area: art, dance, music, literature?
One way to achieve these aims might be to join in some of the many NAIDOC celebrations occurring over the next week. There are plenty, just have a look on the NAIDOC website or come to the University of Notre Dame next Tuesday the 9th to join in We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963
See you there?