OCEANIA/AUSTRALIA - Integration of Aboriginal children: the contribution of schools after the wound of the referendum

Thursday, 8 February 2024 human rights   indigenous   reconciliation   school   children  

Sydney (Agenzia Fides) - The integration of Aboriginal people into Australian society and the social, cultural and spiritual reconciliation in the nation pass through school: with this conviction, the Redfern Jarjum College (Jarjum), a Catholic institute run by the Australian Jesuits , has been active in Sydney for 10 years, providing an education to Aboriginal children living in the city or on the Torres Strait Islands who do not attend or cannot integrate into traditional primary schools due to poverty and family circumstances. The school welcomes boys and girls between 4 and 13 years old, providing them with a completely free education. “Jarjum” is a local Aboriginal word meaning “youth/child”, while Redfern is the district in which the school is located. The college's coat of arms says a lot about the spirit of the educational institution: the colors of the coat of arms are based on those of the Aboriginal flag and emphasize the connection of the school with the local Aboriginal population. In the center is a Christian cross with the letters IHS (Greek abbreviation for the name of Jesus), which are part of the monogram of the Society of Jesus, whose Spirit and values are at the heart of the educational project. In a second circle, there are rays of sunshine, symbolizing the trust of the teaching staff in the hopes and dreams of the students, who are open to the larger community to which Jarjum College belongs. The motto of the school is "Gili", which means "to shine" in the language of the indigenous Gadigal people. The school's principal, Katherine Zerounian, notes that "Redfern Jarjum College was founded as a Catholic school in the Jesuit tradition. Here Ignatian spirituality, characterized by 'finding God in all things', is enriched by respect and exploration of Aboriginal spirituality. Education, he says, "is inspired by the 'Universal Apostolic Preferences' of the Society of Jesus, starting with 'Walking with the Excluded', as we take care of children from poor and marginalized families", following the little ones but also to the families themselves as they integrate into the social fabric. This work is even more valuable considering that the process of integrating Aboriginal communities into Australian society stopped in autumn 2023, when Australians refused to grant Aboriginal people constitutional recognition and greater rights by rejecting a referendum proposal. The popular consultation - promoted by the ruling Labor Party since 2022 - took place 235 years after British colonization, 61 years after Australian Aboriginals obtained the right to vote (in 1962) and 15 years after the historic "apology" expressed publicly by the Australian government to Indigenous communities for the harm caused by decades of government policies, including the forced removal of children from Aboriginal families. More than 60% of voters voted "no" to the proposal to recognize the country's original inhabitants in the 1901 Constitution, and rejected the creation of an advisory council in Parliament that would have given indigenous people a voice on issues that directly concern them. According to a coalition of Aboriginal rights groups, millions of Australian voters missed an important opportunity for national reconciliation: Yes supporters saw the referendum as a way to unite the country and heal the wounds inflicted on the indigenous peoples at the time of colonization. Instead, the campaign and the vote highlighted the deep divisions that still run through Australian society. To heal these wounds, the Australian Catholic bishops published a statement in 2023 titled "Listen, Learn, Love: A New Engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples", inspired by the synodal journey underway in the universal Catholic Church. The bishops invited Australian Catholics to a new commitment to the "First Peoples", to overcome injustice together through love, at the heart of the message of Jesus. There are 984,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, equal to 3.8% of the Australian population. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 8/2/2024)