By Anthony Barich
THE chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council has told Australia’s bishops that the Church needs to ensure that reconciliation remains on the agenda following the Federal Government’s national apology to the ‘Stolen Generation’.
The apology, given on February 13, said: “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture we say sorry.”
NATSICC chair Elsie Heiss and its ACT representative Kerrie Hogan were invited to address the Australian bishops’ Plenary Meeting – held at Mary MacKillop Place, North Sydney from November 24-28 – to mark the significance of the apology and to give an overview of the activities occurring in Aboriginal Ministry.
Mrs Heiss said that in-depth consultation with indigenous communities needed to occur on the question of the future direction of the previous Federal Government’s Intervention in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.
“Everyone agrees that intervention was required in areas of child protection, health and education, but consultation was the main thing that didn’t happen and it still isn’t happening,” she said.
“It’s gone flat. Where to now? We need to come together more and we need to listen to each other.Most importantly, we need to keep reconciliation on the agenda.”
Mrs Heiss said the apology was important to her personally as her mother was part of the ‘Stolen Generation’, having been taken from her own mother aged five.
“That day down there in Canberra, I felt pain and joy,” Mrs Heiss told the bishops of the day Prime Minister Kevin Rudd read the apology, adding that the moment was given added poignancy as she visited her mother and aunty’s graves.
Ms Hogan outlined NATSICC activities and the work of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry around Australia, which included sacramental programs, youth programs, community faith gatherings and hospital chaplaincy.
Following on from the theme of World Youth Day, the NATSICC triennial conference will be held in Brisbane from September 21-22 next year with the theme, “The Holy Spirit in this Land”, and will feature a special youth assembly.
“We want young people to come along as leaders,” Mrs Heiss said. “Youth are so important to our community, whether black or white.”