This year, the theme of the week for the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) (July 4-11) is short, sharp, and challenging. It’s ‘Perfect Country!’ It calls on all of us to continue our efforts to better protect our land, our waters, our holy places and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration and destruction.
NAIDOC Week is, of course, based on the determination of many indigenous peoples, who realized they were neither respected nor heard, to advocate for change. You have told the truth to power, a truth that has seldom been recognized. The organization grew out of the realization that it was inappropriate to celebrate Australia Day on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, an event that marked the beginning of their expropriation. They began organizing to get practical recognition from other Australians of their right to participate in society as equal members, but met resistance on every corner. They still face opposition on the Australian National Day issue but have since built significant support from the wider community.
This movement resulted in NAIDOC Week. It continues to provide an opportunity for all Australians to celebrate the culture and aspirations and aspirations of the indigenous peoples and the Torres Strait islanders. And to listen to her voice.
The theme of this year’s NAIDOC Week addresses a concern of all Australians – protecting the country and its cultural heritage. It comes at a time when the prevailing apathy, negligence and vandalism towards the destruction of sites central to indigenous culture and history has been called into question. The response to the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves in Western Australia aroused astonishment and outrage outside Australia and cost Rio Tinto and its investors the reputation, money and services of prominent incumbents. Similar threats to heritage on the Fortescue Claims and the Burrup Peninsula have also generated widespread commentary and will be difficult to ignore. The protests and publicity they have received have shaken Australians carelessness about the importance of their history, most impressively shown by their blindness to the importance of maintaining the national archives. An ancient Roman observer of these things might well suspect that the barbarians had taken over the empire.
That is why the topic of NAIDOC Week is so topical. Heal Country has many meanings. It can mean healing a land that is sacred to its people and that has been destroyed by exploitation. It could also mean healing a divided nation that is so disrespectful to its original people. On a deeper level, it could mean healing a blindness and lack of respect for what should be sacred. This blindness sees people only as individuals in a competitive economy and ignores their personal worth and the complex and subtle relationships through time and space that shape them. In particular, it shows a lack of respect for the relationship with the environment, which is threatening the future of all Australians due to global warming.
The name of the week and its emphasis belong to the Aborigines and the islanders. But addressing the issue concerns all Australians, not just the indigenous peoples. It’s about building respectful and decent relationships that create pride within communities. The week is a time to connect with one another, to recognize and celebrate the many ways that pride has been built in indigenous communities and to nurture this in their relationships with people and the environment, governments and show other institutions the opening of respect for healing.
Fr. Andrew Hamilton SJ is an editorial advisor to Jesuit Communications