Each year NAIDOC Week encourages Indigenous Australians to continue to press for their right to participate in society as equal members. It also calls on other Australians to respect them and to join them in celebrating their culture and aspirations. This commits us to listen to their voice.
NAIDOC Week originated in protest. Indigenous Australians claimed that it was inappropriate to celebrate Australia Day on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, an event which marked the beginning of their dispossession. They began to organise in order to find practical recognition by other Australians of their right to participate in society as equal members. They faced opposition at every corner. On the question of Australia’s national day they still face opposition, but have now built considerable support in the wider community. Australia Day now provokes serious reflection among all Australians on whether its link to the arrival of Governor Phillip in Sydney Harbour should be sustained.
Each year the theme of NAIDOC Week reflects current events and moods. Last year the theme was Heal Country, which echoed both the growing awareness in the wider Australian Society of the importance of respect for the natural environment and the specific outrage at the destruction of the Jungkian Caves.
This year the theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! Its tone is urgent and impatient, expressing frustration at the resistance to change but also the recognition that new possibilities are within reach. This year Indigenous men and women have continued to die in custody. More Indigenous children, too, have been separated from their families and suffer in detention centres. The frustration and anger of Indigenous men without employment and with loose connections to society have also found expression in violence. These things call for protest and for the need for change.
This year, however, has also seen the election of a Federal Government promising to sponsor endorsement of the Uluru Statement in a Referendum, and signs that the path to an Indigenous voice to Parliament may be open. The disrespectful and discriminatory Cash Card will also be withdrawn. Within the broader culture, too, Indigenous sportspersons, artists, actors and people in professions and public life have won public respect and have won recognition and apologies for past disrespect and discrimination.
Although Indigenous Australians continue to suffer discrimination and racist attitudes are deeply rooted in Australia, these signs of recognition are something to build on. Many of the people whom we accompany in our wider networks are Indigenous Australians. We share their hunger for the change that will enable young people to grow proud of their heritage and confident for their future. We should expect and applaud the people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who get up, stand up and show up in the labour of building a better Australia.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ
Feature photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash.