Last week was National Reconciliation Week with Catholic school communities across the country celebrating Aboriginal identity, culture and the reconciliation journey through a range of events and activities. The 2023 theme, ‘Be a voice for generations’, encourages all Australians to be a voice for reconciliation in tangible ways in their everyday lives.

National Catholic education executive director Jacinta Collins said Catholic education plays an important role in building strong relationships and partnerships with First Nations families that value and celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history within our school communities.

“We continue to experience strong growth in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students attending Catholic schools in Australia,” Jacinta said. “While there is still more we can do to welcome First Nations students, we have seen a 63 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in Catholic schools in the past decade and a 195 per cent increase since 2000.

Jacinta said one of the focus areas for the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander education network is on early learning, which aligns well with the Closing the Gap strategies.

“We continue to strengthen the awareness of leaders and staff in ensuring teaching is culturally-responsive, identifies greater opportunities for engaging First Nations student and community voices, attracts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into teaching, and retains staff in remote schools to provide greater continuity for student learning outcomes. 

“But we also acknowledge there is much more work to do to welcome Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to our school communities and to lift educational outcomes.”

As I wrote recently, authentic and meaningful recognition of First Nations people in the Australian Constitution is a critical step along Australia’s path towards reconciliation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, through the Uluru Statement from the Heart, are seeking that recognition through a Voice that will provide a practical way to represent the views and interests of First Nations people.

I encourage our Catholic school communities to take up the opportunity to read the Uluru Statement, learn more about the Voice, and engage with their local First Nations families and communities on this important direction for Australia.

Celebrations across the country

During National Reconciliation Week, Sydney Catholic Schools came together to introduce the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney’s new Reflect Reconciliation Action Plan and unveiled an original artwork (pictured above) by First Nations artists Evis Heath and Richard Campbell titled Coming together, to gather as one.

The artwork incorporates both Australia’s Ancient Land and the Christian story and depicts forging a path towards Reconciliation. It incorporates thousands of organic and non-linear dots that represent the 593,000 Catholics, 1,200 religious, 516 priests, nine deaneries, 137 parishes, and 147 systemic schools within the Archdiocese of Sydney.

Pic of Reconciliation Week celebrations in Queensland

Students from Southern Cross Catholic College, Scarborough in Queensland reflected on the significance of National Reconciliation Week with a sea of hands representing the students’ support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land rights, justice and reconciliation.

As part of their Reconciliation Action Plan, St Pius X College, Chatswood (pictured below) had a presentation from the Aboriginal Dance group Nulungu Dreaming. The group comprised Jessy, Murri, Uncle Turtle and Owen who come from Bundjalung Country. They held an audience of over 1,100 students and teachers spellbound for nearly an hour, performing traditional dances and songs from the coastal district of NSW.

National Reconciliation Week was celebrated across Catholic Education Diocese of Cairns with dedicated assemblies, traditional dance performances, meaningful artwork and liturgies (pictured below) highlighting the work of “those who came before us and how using our power, our words, and our actions can create a better, more just Australia for generations to come”.

South Australian Catholic secondary school sports associations celebrated a Reconciliation Round with some Catholic Colleges wearing Indigenous design sports uniforms, displaying togetherness and respect as they contributed to the national effort of making changes to achieve reconciliation in Australia. Marlie and Georgie from St Michael’s College, Adelaide are pictured left wearing their guernseys.

Students from Carmel College, Thornlands in Queensland came together to create a story cloth. The symbols and marks on the cloth serve as triggers for recalling and sharing stories. Students, staff, and First Nations families were invited to make their own mark on the cloth as a representation of their shared histories, cultures and faith.

Carmel College Thornlands QLD making cloth for Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week commemorates two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey – the successful 1967 referendum, and the High Court Mabo decision respectively. 

Learn more about National Reconciliation Week.