A team travelling on behalf of the World Council of Churches has been welcomed to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia by a Larrakia elder and regional church leaders.
"I thank you for the respect you show us, the traditional custodians of the land we stand on today," elder Cathie Wilson told the 'Living Letters' international visitors, on 12 September 2010.
The Larrakia People are the traditional owners of the land and waters of the Greater Darwin Region, she explained, "and although our boundaries extend up to 50 kilometres inland, we are often referred to as saltwater people".
The Living Letters team is visiting Australia at the invitation of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission (NATSIEC), 12 - 17 September.
The invitation was extended to show solidarity with Aboriginal people and to share insights and helpful approaches to achieving just peace. Specifically, the visitors will listen to Aboriginal people's experiences of the 2007 "Northern Territory Emergency Response" – locally known as the "Intervention" – and other social justice issues.
During the Sunday evening event, Bishop Eugene Hurley, Roman Catholic bishop of the Northern Territory said, "We welcome the Living Letters team and hope that this visit shines a light on the human rights issues that Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory struggle with on a daily basis. It is also an opportunity for the team to learn from the beauty of our local cultures."
Anglican Bishop Greg Thompson agreed, declaring: "The Living Letters team is here to listen to the voices of Aboriginal people who are so often silenced and excluded from the decisions and debate about issues that affect their lives. This is an opportunity to hear their voices."
Wendell Flentje, moderator of the Northern Synod of the Uniting Church in Australia said, "Our hope is that this international team can stand in solidarity with Northern Territory Aborigines and tell the world, and the general Australia community, about the difficult issues they face here."
Living Letters teams are small ecumenical teams which visit a country to listen, learn, share approaches and challenges in overcoming violence and in peace making, and to pray together for peace in the community and in the world, team leader Maria Chavez Quispe explained.
Chávez, a member of Bolivia's Aymara people, is the WCC consultant for indigenous issues. "We hope our presence in Australia will show the Aboriginal people that they are not alone and that we are here to listen to them and to take their message to other Australians and the international community," she said.
The Living Letters team will visit communities throughout the Northern Territory. A media conference will be held on Friday, 17 September, at the Harbour Room, Anglican Cathedral, Darwin at 12.00, followed by a public forum at 12.30 p.m. to present the team’s initial observations.
"We thank and praise God for the gift of this beautiful country and for its first inhabitants. May we care for this land and for one another in a way that is pleasing to God our creator," indigenous leader Cathie Wilson added.