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Change: the next step is ours

July 07, 2011

This year is the 40th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Flag. This unifying symbol created by Harold Thomas draws us back to who we are and where we come from. It will fly very proudly over many events held during NAIDOC week to celebrate the many achievements and Peoples who have struggled for many years for proper recognition within our Australian society and our Churches.

L-R Melissa Brickell, Elsie Heiss,
Vicki Walker, Graeme Mundine, at the
Canonisation of St Mary MacKillop

Unlike Reconciliation Week, where we are called to work harder at our relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the wider community, NAIDOC is a time to reflect upon where we have come from and where we want to go.

To be able to do this properly we need to look at those we have met along the long road; those who have gone before us. They stood proudly beneath this flag during the trying times over the past forty years; The Tent Embassy in Canberra; the many Land Rights battles; Deaths in Custody; Stolen Generations; Ten Point Plan; Intervention rallies to name but a few.

These were not silent Peoples, but were those who saw the wrongs continually committed against our Peoples and acted to bring about a better place for us today. Their activism gave us better opportunities in education, employment and health. They gave us the possibility to take back control of our lands, waterways and seas. They showed us we can and do make a difference if we stand together against the wrongs continually committed against us. They showed that although we are very different and unique groups we do have a lot in common and we can bring about change if we stand together united.

Mitch Firth leads the Offertory Procession,
Thanksgiving Mass Rome

These days things look to be very easy and, in fact, they  are compared to what our ancestors had to endure. Quite often we forget, like most Australians, our own history and also quite often forget that although some of us are doing okay now there are still many who are being left behind. Quite often we don’t want to rock the boat because of the problems it causes us as individuals. We need to remember those great friends from the past.

They did these things because they recognized that many of our fellow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters and brothers are doing very poorly and although they themselves may not have had much they used their skills, talents and voice for their fellow human beings.

Quite often we can get caught up in our own problems and neglect the collective good. I’m sure a guy like Eddie Mabo or a person like Mum Shirl were not people who just looked to advancing themselves but the whole community. I write this because I think our days of activism have slowly diminished. I see around me things like the recent events on Palm Island and NT Intervention and I wonder why stronger voices are not being heard. I wonder why there are people who actually agree with what’s happening around them. I wonder why there are those who stand up with those groups who continue to suppress us. What is going wrong here? Too many of us are being weaned out from the pack and used against the others. The whole divide and conquer concept is being used against us - again.

Ritual of Remembrance for Conaci
who died in Rome 1853

Change, as the theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week, is a positive thing. We are all called to be better people. Change is for the better not just for change sake. It has to be our change agenda not the agenda from newcomers or outsiders. We have to decide the directions we want to go in and how to get there. We have to do it together and not just think of ourselves as individuals. The western world is about how we can make a buck out of this. We too would like to do the same but not at the expense of ripping off our fellow sisters and brothers and those of future generations.

I was told many years ago by an Aboriginal Woman to always remember who you are and where you come from. I’m sure my parents also tried to instill this in me with the countless trips back to our home country to stay with our relatives and on country. Knowing who I am and where I come from continues to remind me of the hardships still to be addressed within our communities and that I’m not the centre of the universe but I can make a difference for others if I but only try.

This NAIDOC week I hope that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples can make a change for the better first within themselves but also within their communities while united standing proudly under that gift of Harold Thomas’ flag.

Graeme Mundine is the Executive Officer of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Archdiocese of Sydney
Photo Source: Val Bryant

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