June 2015

One people united in our humanity?

A number of events in June compel us to justly manage the artificial divisions between nations and race or this planet may have a very limited future, writes Good Samaritan Sister Clare Condon.

BY Clare Condon SGS

Here in Australia during June our attention is drawn to a number of key social justice issues. We have just celebrated Reconciliation Week (May 27 to June 3) and look forward to NAIDOC Week (July 5 to 12). On June 5 we focussed on World Environment Day, and on June 20 (World Refugee Day) we will be called to consider the plight of refugees.

Do any of these events have a common connection? I think they do! They focus on our capacity as humans to be united as one people on a very small planet called earth. They compel us to justly manage the artificial divisions between nations and races or this planet may have a very limited future.

As Australians do we mirror this global challenge to be one people, united in our humanity? Let me focus on national reconciliation and the recognition of Australia’s Indigenous peoples in our Constitution as an example.

Many schools respond positively to National Reconciliation Week. I have just finished reading what Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane has undertaken in the past week. They have started a service group called STAR (Santa Teresa and Reconciliation). They support the Indigenous community of Santa Teresa in the Northern Territory and see them as their brothers and sisters. They are their friends because they have met each other. They know one another. There is no semblance of racism or division in their relationships.

In recent times there has been considerable discussion in the media about the proposed 2017 referendum to recognise Indigenous Australians in our national Constitution. Such recognition has been presented as a bi-partisan commitment of both major political parties and an essential step forward for the whole nation. Over 250,000 Australians have signed up to the Recognise Campaign to support this process. It seems to me it is a long-overdue and uncomplicated act for the nation to recognise the first peoples of this land. They have resided here for over 40,000 years not just a meagre 227 years.

Yet some divisive voices are beginning to emerge in the media, voices seemingly intent on sowing doubt, confusion and fear within the national conversation. I find it intolerable that anyone could see this process only in racial terms. It is narrow-minded, self-serving and objectionable. Indigenous people have not experienced equality since the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. They have been marginalised at every level. For too long their culture has not been valued and respected. Indigenous Australians are the first peoples of this land. Yet it is the late arrivals who have demonised and excluded them.

I agree with Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor of Australian Catholic University, who recently said: “If, as a country, we came to the point where the whole of our history – European, British and Indigenous – was owned by everybody, that would be a magnificent day”. Indeed, it would be a magnificent day if all arrivals in Australia, including those from countries other than Europe and Britain, were included and we could all recognise the first peoples of this nation and give them their rightful place.

The challenge before us is not to fall into the fear politics of racism promoted by a few. Let us work assiduously for the Recognise Campaign and right the wrongs that are so deeply entrenched in our society. We cannot hide from the fact that Indigenous Australians have suffered massive dispossession and displacement. They have endured a history of inequality. Only by radical reversal of the wrongs can our common humanity be reclaimed.

Recognition of these facts in the nation’s Constitution could help to heal divisions. Unity of purpose as one people could be the result. Such a move could also lead to the breaking down of other divisions in society, whether by religion, race, nationality, or prejudice. Is it too much to hope that one day we could be one people on one earth united by our common humanity?

Clare Condon

Sister Clare Condon is a former Congregational Leader of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. She served as leader from September 2005 until September 2017. In 2013, Clare was awarded a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission in recognition of the Good Samaritan Sisters’ work with asylum seekers, Indigenous Australians and the victims of domestic violence. In 2022, Clare was awarded an Honorary Doctor of the University from Australian Catholic University.

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