Heal Country: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Sunday
Every year, Catholics come together across Australia to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts of Australia’s First Peoples in the Catholic Church. This year is particularly important following the COVID 19 Pandemic and its impact on the ways in which we interacted and make contact with one another.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) decided to adopt the NAIDOC theme for 2021 – “Heal Country.” Below is an excerpt from Archbishop Prowse’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday homily.
So, on this Sunday of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, with the motto for this year “Heal Country,” we are also aware in our own country of Australia that many people overlook Aboriginal people because of their ordinariness.
I remember some years ago regarding an initial meeting committee organising a National Conference on Australian themes. One of the very first questions that people asked was the following, “Who can we invite from overseas?” It appeared that unless the keynote speaker came on a jet from overseas they wouldn’t have sufficient moral authority! I remember some of us made the suggestion that perhaps one of the Aboriginal Catholic Leaders of Australia would be more than capable of being a keynote speaker. This was investigated for a little while but seemed to lack majority support as the meeting went on. It appeared that the Aboriginal leader could offer “Welcome to Country” but that was about it. We must guard ourselves against tokenism in regard to our Aboriginal people, even with the well-intentioned “Acknowledgment to Country.” If we are just simply, as it were, “ticking the boxes” then it lets us of the hook with regard to taking communal commitment to the Aboriginal contribution more seriously.
Another experience comes to mind. It was last year when I was visiting the parishes following the Bush Fires. I recall being outside the Church at Bega. I was talking to local Aboriginal leaders. In a fascinating way, they described how the Aboriginal tradition of cultural clearing of the Bush floor has been overlooked in Australia since colonisation. They then explained how Aboriginal people were able to control the Bush Fire danger in ingenious ways. I was aware that this was a very helpful suggestion by Aboriginal people throughout Australia. Regrettably, once again, the suggestion was mentioned briefly in the media but then lost traction. The ordinariness of their suggestion, which I found quite extraordinary, seemed to be once again dumbed down amongst Australians who find it very hard to take seriously the Aboriginal contribution. We only have to look at the appalling present day statistics regarding the basic health and sociological data of our First Australians which are too painful for all of us to take seriously. That is why we do need to “heal country!”
- Archbishop Prowse’s full homily can be found here.