To mark NAIDOC Week 2017 we welcome a guest post from Sr Wendy Flannery. For over forty years, Sr Wendy has dedicated her career to peace building, sustainability, and bridging racial, cultural and faith divides. Today, Sr Wendy reflects on the NAIDOC 2017 theme, Our Languages Matter.
‘The 2017 theme, Our Languages Matter, aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song’ (NAIDOC 2017).
All languages are a precious part of human heritage, reflecting views of the world and the place of humans in it in unique and complex ways. The European colonial practice of denigrating Indigenous languages and forbidding their use in any mainstream or public contexts was the norm. It was taken for granted in educational institutions right up until the 1980s, including those conducted by Sisters of Mercy, that English was the medium of instruction. Other languages might be taught in high schools as a ‘second language’, but there was never any consideration given to teaching Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander languages.
While many of the surviving Indigenous Australian languages are at risk of being lost, some spoken by just a single elder, it’s a joy to see all the efforts being made to record the languages still able to be recovered, mostly by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals passionate about the survival of their cultural heritage. Some steps being made to teach them not only to Indigenous students but to ‘mainstream’ students as well.
Each year, I look forward to the annual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eucharistic celebration at St Stephen’s Cathedral. It’s a very special occasion for Indigenous Catholics in Brisbane and an occasion in which they can really experience true recognition within the wider Catholic community. I look forward to the day when this annual celebration can include at least some prayer in Indigenous Australian languages.