I believe we can sometimes forget the significant role of our elders. Humans need to look to the generations above them for the modelling required for what it means to be human.

Sunday 2 July marked the beginning of NAIDOC (National Aboriginals and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week. About 200 people gathered in and around the Cathedral on Sunday to mark the commencement of this week, a week of significance for all Australians.

The theme for this year’s NAIDOC Week is For Our Elders. During the service at the Cathedral, we reflected on the place that elders play not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people but for all people. I believe we can sometimes forget the significant role of our elders. Humans need to look to the generations above them for the modelling required for what it means to be human. These elders are not only our parents and grandparents but also other older people in our communities.

I recall when I was a Pastoral Associate at St Joseph’s Parish in Tweed Heads, meeting older women who shared with me the amazing stories of their lives. I recall connecting with them and realising that I needed these older women as role models to show me how to become older. Since coming to the diocese, I have similarly met older women who I respect and appreciate. They guide me by just being themselves and by being strong women of faith.

I hope that I, similarly, provide for our future generations, the guidance needed to make their place in the world. Culturally, we are connected across generations and need to respectfully listen to each other’s stories of what gives meaning and purpose to our lives.

For decades, I have had the privilege of meeting with, and sharing stories with, Aboriginal elders whose lives have been challenged by the history of settlement and the ensuing policies. Their stories of separation from family, tribal groups, language, and land are painful to hear, and yet they are filled with hope for a better future for themselves, their families, and their mob.

I hope that during this week you can take the time to attend a NAIDOC Week gathering, or to view some television coverage of the programs that are being telecast for NAIDOC Week. For me, it is taking the time to sit and listen, that has provided me with a deeper understanding of the impact of the loss of culture, knowledge, connection, spirituality, and identity.

The regular readers of this weekly message will know that Allen and I have spent the last two weeks on holidays with one of our daughters and her family. We also caught up with other children and grandchildren. This time together, under the same roof, provides all generations the opportunity to share stories both verbally and non-verbally. We just learn from each other by being, not by saying but by spending time. Our values are experienced and absorbed.

The logo for the Sacred Heart Cathedral has the following words associated with it – A place where Church & Society meet. That is exactly what we did during our NAIDOC Week Service. It was a celebration of community coming together to acknowledge the significance of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on this ancient land we have the privilege to call home. People from different faith traditions gathered and journeyed with each other through moments of stillness, movement, reflection, and transformation. We were welcomed to country by Aunty Sandra Griffin, experienced a smoking ceremony while being accompanied by the yidaki (digeridoo) and clapping sticks and were surrounded by faith leaders from the Anglican, Bahai’, Catholic Jewish, Muslim, and Uniting Churches.

During the service, we sang the hymn Ancient Words by Lyn Deshazo, which was also sung in language:

Ancient words ever true
Changing me and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.

Wapirra Ngurrju-Nyayirni
Ngaliki Nyurrurlaku
Ngalilpa Yanurninpa
Wangkaya Nganimpaku  

At the end we were blessed by the leaders with the following words:

Baha’i:              Go in Unity, Love and Peace.

Anglican:         Go and be a light for all the world to see.

Hebrew:           May the tabernacle of peace be spread upon all the dwellers of the earth.

Uniting:             Go forth into the world in peace.

Muslim:             I see it is good and establishes unity and solidarity.

Fr John:            Go and live the Good News.

I finish this week’s message by inviting you to reflect upon the words spoken at the beginning of our NAIDOC Week Service:

Today begins NAIDOC week; a week of remembering and promoting the rich heritage and culture of Aboriginal People and Torres Strait Islanders, the oldest continuing culture on the planet.

This year’s theme is ‘For Our Elders.’

Across every generation, our Elders have played, and continue to play, an important role and hold a prominent place in our communities and families.

Our Elders are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers, and our loved ones.

Our loved ones who pick us up in our low moments and celebrate us in our high ones, who cook us a feed to comfort us and pull us into line, when we need them to.

Our Elders guide our generations and pave the way for us to take the paths we can take today. Guidance, not only through generations of advocacy and activism, but in everyday life and how to place ourselves in the world.

We draw strength from their knowledge and experience, in everything from land management, cultural knowledge to justice and human rights. Across multiple sectors like health, education, the arts, politics, and everything in between, they have set the many courses we follow.

The struggles of our Elders help to move us forward today. The equality we continue to fight for is found in their fight. Their tenacity and strength have carried the survival of our people.

It is their influence and through their learnings that we must ensure that when it comes to future decision-making for our people, there is nothing about us - without us.

We pay our respects to the Elders we’ve lost and to those who continue fighting for us across all our Nations and we pay homage to them.

Today, we are invited to journey together. We will walk together across this sacred ground as we listen – as we listen to each other, as we listen to story, as we listen to Country.

Please take time to reflect upon the words above, while over the coming months, my hope is that we can journey with, and appreciate this sacred culture.

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Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.