NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. Many years ago Indigenous Australians recognised that they needed a day of the own to celebrate distinctive aspects of their own culture that Australia Day could not include. The Committee names the theme of the day each year.

The theme of NAIDOC week in 2015 is distinctively Indigenous, but it offers much for all Australians to reflect on. ‘We all stand on sacred ground: Learn, respect, celebrate’. It evokes the attachment to land so central to Indigenous peoples, and the corresponding suffering when people see their land violated or they are excluded from it.
The theme calls Indigenous Australians to value their inheritance and to nurture it. It also challenges other Australians to be curious about the heritage of their Indigenous brothers and sisters, and to respect it in the uses to which their lands are put to.

But more deeply, the NAIDOC theme reminds us that we all stand on sacred ground, and that we lose much if we lose touch with it. Our lives, our connections with place and with our forefathers are sacred and matter deeply. In a culture that is so much about instant gratification we are at risk of losing sight of the great gift that these deep connection are. The more we treasure our earth and treat it with respect, the better our society will be.

To consider the ground we stand on as sacred invites us to reflect on how we walk on it. We need to learn the ways in which we can cultivate it in an enduring way, the connections between the ways we exploit it for food or for minerals and the climate and water sources we rely on for life. We need to respect the limits we must place on our desires for profit, and see our world as an inheritance we hold in trust for later generations. We need to take time to celebrate the beauty of sea, forest and mountains, and value the economy of the spirit as well as of finance.

For Jesuit Social Services the sacred ground we stand on is also the vulnerable people we work with. We learn from them, we are committed to respect them, and we celebrate the precious gift that each person is and the growth we see in them. They, like the natural world we live in, are gifts to us.

This year NAIDOC week occurs in the shadow of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment. It comes out of a culture very different from our Indigenous cultures, but the two cultures are alike in insisting that which the natural world is a gift and not an entitlement, that it is given to us in trust, that to despoil it for gain is a terrible thing, and that in any environment all things are connected.

– Andy Hamilton SJ