Recognising First Australians
28 Nov 2012 | Blog | Australia | Long-term Development
Thursday 29th November marks the 26th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s ‘Address to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Blatherskite Park’, Alice Springs, in 1986. This year at Caritas Australia we have chosen the occasion to announce and celebrate the name change of our Australian Indigenous Program to the ‘First Australians Program’.
Why ‘First Australians Program’?
Only yesterday a Bill was introduced into the Federal Parliament for an Act to provide for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The Bill states “The Parliament, on behalf of the people of Australia, recognises that the continent and the islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.
For Caritas our name change has been requested by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partners who feel that the term ‘Indigenous’ is a generic term and does not express their unique belonging to the country within which our organisation is based.
Speaking to the traditional owners and custodians of our country in November 1986, the Pope’s words recognised and honoured their enduring relationships with the land which have spanned across thousands of years. The Pope acknowledged the unique role of these relationships in shaping the living cultures, traditions and spiritualities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
“You lived your life in spiritual closeness to the land (and) touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God. You did not spoil the land. You realised that your land was related to the source of life. The silence of the bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world, the world of God’s Spirit.”
The Pope’s address also acknowledged the history of injustice experienced since colonisation and praised the First Australians for finding strength within their own cultures to face the ongoing obstacles:
“The discrimination caused by racism is a daily experience. Aboriginal people were transported from their homelands into small areas or reserves where families were split apart, children orphaned and people forced to live like exiles in a foreign country. The settlements still exist today, and require just and proper settlement that still lies unachieved. The urban problems resulting from the transportation and separation of people still have to be addressed.”
“Your culture, which shows the lasting genius and dignity of your race, must not be allowed to disappear. You have learned how to survive. Though your difficulties are not yet over, you must draw on the endurance which your Ancient ceremonies have taught you”.
There is still a long way to go as the voices of First Australians and their leaders remain far too often unheeded or misunderstood by those in power. Back in 1986, presenting a vision for the future the Pope entreated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to share their vibrancy and vitality, embedded in their unique understandings and ways of being as the First Australians:
“The Church herself in Australia will not fully be the Church that Jesus wants her to be until you have made your contribution to her life and until that contribution has been joyfully received by others”.
With the leadership and support of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partners, we at Caritas Australia have embraced the name ‘First Australians Program’ in place of the Australian Indigenous Program as a further step towards fulfilling this vision.
Learn more about our First Australian Programs
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