Churches leader expresses dismay at Aboriginal situation - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
July 12, 2004

Churches leader expresses dismay at Aboriginal situation

-12/7/04

"The right to self-determination is an inalienable right of Australian Aboriginals. It is unacceptable that in a democratic civilized country like Australia, the government denies the basic rights of the original inhabitants of the land," said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in his first public address in Australia.

The WCC general secretary, who began an Australian visit at Port Augusta, South Australia, on 8 July, was welcomed by representatives of the original owners of the land in a traditional greeting at the old Umeewarra Mission at Davenport.

Responding to the welcome, Kobia said that "We stand in this land with your permission, and we come here to express our solidarity with your struggle at a time when the Aboriginals are facing an unprecedented crisis in Australia."

The Aboriginal leaders who spoke at the public meeting described how hard-won state Indigenous programmes are now being sidelined by the federal government, and how the democratically elected Indigenous voice in government is being curtailed through legislative measures.

"A country which fought for the right to self-determination of the people in East Timor and Iraq, which at the same time is denying the first Australians who have been living here over 60,000 years, is a paradox," Aboriginal leader Khysstan Wanganeen stated.

Expressing dismay about the deteriorating situation of Australian Aboriginals, Kobia warned that "the Australian government's recent decision to shift the Indigenous affairs and reconciliation programme from its current form as a special department to mainstream government administration will stall the reconciliation process."

The Australian government has introduced legislation to disband the Aborigines' and Torres Strait Islanders' Commission (ATSIC), a decision which Kobia called "very unfortunate". Indigenous people see this as an attempt to silence the elected Indigenous voice.

Kobia said that, after listening to Aboriginal people, he found the way they are treated reveals "some racist tendencies," although "he wouldn't call the Australian people or Australia as a country racist". "In any society, you will find individuals or some extreme organizations that would want to continue with racist attitudes," he added.

Kobia also stressed the achievements in Australia's reconciliation process. "There are very commendable initiatives and efforts that the Australian people have made, both the churches and other communities." He emphasized that he is "encouraged by the process of healing and reconciliation that has been initiated by the churches in this country."

"The government tends to put Aboriginal self-determination into the background," said Alwyn McKenzie, Port Augusta's ATSIC chairperson. "Indigenous people have an inherent right to be recognized as the first people of this country." To reach reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, he suggested that "We must use the experience, the wisdom and the knowledge of all Australians, working in partnership."

Accompanied by National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) president, Rev. Prof. James Haire, NCCA general secretary, Rev. John Henderson, and WCC Asia secretary, Dr Mathews George, Kobia visited Aboriginal elders at the Cooinda conference centre and the Pika Wiya Aboriginal health service, created in 1979 with a seed grant from the WCC. Later, he met with a large number of Aboriginal people at the Port Augusta Faith Community Centre.

Kobia's programme in Australia ended on Sunday, 11 July, and included a visit to the Baxter refugee detention centre, opening and delivering a keynote address at the NCCA trienniel forum in Adelaide, and meeting church leaders from around the country.

Churches leader expresses dismay at Aboriginal situation

-12/7/04

"The right to self-determination is an inalienable right of Australian Aboriginals. It is unacceptable that in a democratic civilized country like Australia, the government denies the basic rights of the original inhabitants of the land," said World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia in his first public address in Australia.

The WCC general secretary, who began an Australian visit at Port Augusta, South Australia, on 8 July, was welcomed by representatives of the original owners of the land in a traditional greeting at the old Umeewarra Mission at Davenport.

Responding to the welcome, Kobia said that "We stand in this land with your permission, and we come here to express our solidarity with your struggle at a time when the Aboriginals are facing an unprecedented crisis in Australia."

The Aboriginal leaders who spoke at the public meeting described how hard-won state Indigenous programmes are now being sidelined by the federal government, and how the democratically elected Indigenous voice in government is being curtailed through legislative measures.

"A country which fought for the right to self-determination of the people in East Timor and Iraq, which at the same time is denying the first Australians who have been living here over 60,000 years, is a paradox," Aboriginal leader Khysstan Wanganeen stated.

Expressing dismay about the deteriorating situation of Australian Aboriginals, Kobia warned that "the Australian government's recent decision to shift the Indigenous affairs and reconciliation programme from its current form as a special department to mainstream government administration will stall the reconciliation process."

The Australian government has introduced legislation to disband the Aborigines' and Torres Strait Islanders' Commission (ATSIC), a decision which Kobia called "very unfortunate". Indigenous people see this as an attempt to silence the elected Indigenous voice.

Kobia said that, after listening to Aboriginal people, he found the way they are treated reveals "some racist tendencies," although "he wouldn't call the Australian people or Australia as a country racist". "In any society, you will find individuals or some extreme organizations that would want to continue with racist attitudes," he added.

Kobia also stressed the achievements in Australia's reconciliation process. "There are very commendable initiatives and efforts that the Australian people have made, both the churches and other communities." He emphasized that he is "encouraged by the process of healing and reconciliation that has been initiated by the churches in this country."

"The government tends to put Aboriginal self-determination into the background," said Alwyn McKenzie, Port Augusta's ATSIC chairperson. "Indigenous people have an inherent right to be recognized as the first people of this country." To reach reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, he suggested that "We must use the experience, the wisdom and the knowledge of all Australians, working in partnership."

Accompanied by National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) president, Rev. Prof. James Haire, NCCA general secretary, Rev. John Henderson, and WCC Asia secretary, Dr Mathews George, Kobia visited Aboriginal elders at the Cooinda conference centre and the Pika Wiya Aboriginal health service, created in 1979 with a seed grant from the WCC. Later, he met with a large number of Aboriginal people at the Port Augusta Faith Community Centre.

Kobia's programme in Australia ended on Sunday, 11 July, and included a visit to the Baxter refugee detention centre, opening and delivering a keynote address at the NCCA trienniel forum in Adelaide, and meeting church leaders from around the country.

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