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In depth: Indigenous Australia

18 December 2012

What do we need to do as the next step in moving forward in the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians?

13 February 2013 marks the fifth anniversary of the Australian Government's Apology to the Stolen Generations. It is a moment that will be remembered by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians for the acknowledgement of past injustices and pain, and the expression of a desire for a future 'based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country.'

One of the injustices perpetrated on Australian Indigenous people is that for much of this country's history, they have had little to no stake in its governance. It was only in 1967 that Indigenous people were finally allowed the right to vote. Even today, the small proportion of Indigenous people in this country means they have little say in its policies, even when those policies are directed at them.

The Catholic Church in recent years has sought to find ways to address some of these imbalances. The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC) gives Indigenous people a voice in the Church, while Indigenous people also had a strong presence at events like World Youth Day and the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in Rome.

The Proud Race initiative ('Remembering with pride', page 10) was begun by Vicki Clark at Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Victoria as a way of marking the anniversary of the Apology and remembering the commitments made by all Australians. In particular, the campaign is about recognising and remembering the stories of Indigenous Australians by representing them on life-sized bollards.

'For a long, long time, Aboriginal people have been outcasts', she says in the story. 'But if a young person, in designing a bollard, gets to know the story of an Aboriginal person and then says, "This is my Proud Race person", then we're no longer outcast. People can begin to respect and understand us.'

Listening to the stories of Indigenous Australians means engaging more deeply in their experiences today. We can do this by participating in campaigns like Proud Race, and listening to artists like Archie Roach ('What it means to love the land', page 12). We can also give attention to Indigenous perspectives when it comes to issues like the environment and land management. Finally, we need to understand that Indigenous people must be given a greater voice in policies like the Northern Territory Intervention, if we are to hope to empower them to improve their lives.


Topic tags: indigenousaustralians, religiousandculturaldiversity, spiritualityandtheenvironment, buildingpeace

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