“NAIDOC draws people in, because people know what NAIDOC is and what it means.”
This is the feeling of Aboriginal elder Aunty Janice Kennedy, a Gumbainggir woman who works at CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains’ Aboriginal Catholic Services (ACS) in Emerton.
Aunty Janice describes to me all the exciting plans that ACS had in place to celebrate NAIDOC Week, which runs until 11 July, but were postponed due to the current stay-at-home orders for the Greater Sydney region.
“NAIDOC is a big cultural day where everyone in the community can celebrate,” she says. “We were getting excited to celebrate.”
Aunty Janice has been involved with ACS for over 20 years. Whilst she was studying in TAFE, she was introduced to Sr Naomi, who was involved in what was called the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry in Penrith in 1997. The service moved to Emerton in 2011.
“ACS is a welcoming place, and you feel a warm atmosphere when you come in,” Aunty Janice says.
“We’ve always been involved in the community, and it is a place where people come and need help.”
Aboriginal HIPPY Coordinator Linda McDonald, a Gundungurra woman, who has been working at ACS for 8 years, explains, “ACS offers assistance to a vast array of people.
“ACS allows people to attend Sisterhood meetings, ‘Yarn Up’, art and wellbeing sessions, counselling, and we also have HIPPY, a home interaction program for parents and youngsters.”
Both women believe that it is important to have Indigenous people employed at ACS and involved in the programs they run for the local community, home to the largest urban Indigenous population in Australia.
“As an organisation, we are there for Aboriginal people to feel like it is a comfortable place to come and share their stories, life and to feel that they are not ostracised, but accepted,” Linda says.
“When we deliver casework to clients, they like and trust an Aboriginal person.
“Another aspect of this would be that I act as a role model to other Aboriginal people.”
Aunty Janice adds, “if Indigenous people know that there are Indigenous people at the service, then they’ll want to come there.
“It really makes a difference to have Indigenous employees, as we are often well connected in the community.”
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is Heal Country, which, according to the National NAIDOC Committee, “calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect, and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage.”
For Aunty Janice, Heal Country, to her means getting people together to learn about Indigenous culture, no matter what race you are.
“I really hope that in this week, we are able to think differently and do things differently,” she says.
In Linda’s view, Heal Country asks everyone to look after the earth, air and sea for the future generations.
“NAIDOC is a special celebration that brings non-Aboriginal people to share in our rich culture, knowledge and spirituality.
“I really encourage non-Aboriginal people to learn about Aboriginal culture.
“Success comes when a bridge is built and everyone joins together as a whole community. This is when we can break down insecurities about Aboriginal people.”
NAIDOC Week 2021 runs from 4 to 11 July.
Find a range of resources to commemorate NAIDOC Week, including a list of COVID-Safe activities, and ways to continue supporting our Indigenous brothers and sisters at naidoc.org.au.
Aboriginal Catholic Services hopes to celebrate NAIDOC with an event to be held at Emerton in the September school holidays. More details to come.