Morning Tea – Australia Centre
Australian Embassy, Manila
10 July 2008
Australian Ambassador Rod Smith
I’d like to thank you all for being here today and joining us for this morning tea held in celebration of this years NAIDOC Week. This week is observed each year as an opportunity to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Australia’s two groups of indigenous peoples – the Aboriginal and the Torres Strait Islander peoples.
These two groups of peoples are the original inhabitants and traditional owners of the country that we now know as Australia. In the time since white settlement, each has made significant contributions – and continues to make – significant contributions across many fields, including the arts, media, academia, sport, government, business and diplomacy.
NAIDOC, which stands for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’, was the committee first established in 1957 with responsibility for organising activities to celebrate Australia’s Indigenous heritage. Today, the acronym has become the name of the celebration itself and is held from the first to the second Sunday in July, all over Australia and in our embassies and consulates around the world.
NAIDOC Week is an occasion to recognise and showcase the vital contributions that Indigenous Australians make to modern Australia; and to help build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. More importantly, it provides Indigenous Australians the opportunity to promote among all Australians a sense of national pride.
This year’s theme “Advance Australia Fair?” – borrowed from the title of our national anthem – is aimed to encourage people to reflect on the Australian principle of a “fair go” and to consider the inequalities still experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia today.
The theme is particularly timely for the new Australian Government, which has pledged – as an urgent priority – to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on life expectancy, child mortality, educational achievement and employment opportunities.
The commitment to close the gap – within specified timeframes – was reaffirmed in Prime Minister Rudd’s historic apology to the Stolen Generations in the Australian Parliament on 13 February 2008. For those of you who are not aware, the Stolen Generations refers to Aboriginal and Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families in the misguided belief – sometimes well-intentioned but utterly misguided and wrong – that they could be better cared for
The national apology has both important symbolic value and is a vital healing message for those who suffered, and still suffer, as a result of forcible removal.
The Prime Minister said the apology was an opportunity to bring the first two centuries of our shared history to a close and to begin a new future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
I’d like at this point to introduce to you Jayne Williams, the . Jayne is a proud Aboriginal Australian who has agreed to share with us today her own thoughts about the apology and the importance of these NAIDOC celebrations.
An important part of our Australia’s on-going commitment to and cooperation with the Philippines is to help promote the culture and heritage of the Filipino indigenous people. We are doing this in a number of ways.
Through the Australian Government’s Development Assistance Program we have supported projects to preserve handloom weaving, an endangered craft, by providing equipment and materials to the Maranao women. We have assisted in the printing and dissemination of indigenous story books for classroom use. And we have also supported livelihood projects such as providing post harvest facilities for coffee farmers of Lake Sebu.
A significant contribution managed through our Basic Education Assistance for Mindanao (BEAM) program and in collaboration with organisations such as the Department of Education and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples was the establishment of the Institute for Indigenous Peoples Education (IIPE) and the Centre for Indigenous Peoples Education (CIPE).
As centres for the promotion of indigenous culture, these institutions have developed a curriculum for public and private schools that emphasises a culturally-sensitive indigenous education attuned to, and in harmony with Mindanao’s indigenous peoples. This assistance has also included capacity building for Indigenous youth, leaders and educators in documenting their indigenous knowledge, community-based pedagogy (teaching) and folk literature to enrich the Indigenous education basic curriculum. Early-childhood education programs; Distance learning courses; Teacher training and Functional literacy and livelihood classes for parents and out of school youth are also valuable components of the institutions.
In a relatively short period of time the assistance given is benefiting thousands of Indigenous children in isolated and disadvantaged regions of Mindanao where education facilities are not easily accessible, where their indigenous knowledge, culture and practices are not being addressed by mainstream curriculum and where living conditions have often kept children away from schools and denied them a proper education.
I want to say once again thank you for coming, it is good to have an opportunity to speak with you on our shared experiences in the richness in culture that Indigenous communities of both our countries can bring.