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Mercies and Josephites pledge support for Indigenous

Religious leaders representing three thousand Catholic nuns have pledged their support for Indigenous people on the twentieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Alice Springs. In a statement released last week (November 29) the Sisters of St Joseph and the Sisters of Mercy throughout Australia have resolved to stand with Aboriginal people in their struggle for basic human rights.


Sister Katrina Brill, a Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph, speaking in conjunction with Sister Caroline Ryan, Vice-President of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia said, “Sisters across Australia work in partnership with Aboriginal peoples in remote, regional and urban communities, at the coal face, in policy think tanks and in advocacy networks. They say that despite the best efforts of many, very little has improved in the last twenty years. Aboriginal people still suffer extreme rates of disadvantage on any current socio-economic scale and their communities’ rights to self determination can still be over-ridden.”


Speaking on behalf of both religious orders, Sister Katrina Brill said, “In his address twenty years ago today, Pope John Paul lamented that a just and proper settlement of Aboriginal rights had not been achieved. He spoke of the right to culture, to a livelihood, to education and to spirituality.


“In particular he recognised the connection between Aboriginal people and their land. He emphasised a right to land, a right that the first peoples of this country have never surrendered.


“With regard to issues facing the Australian community today, the Pope’s call for “˜fair and equitable recognition of Aboriginal right to land’ is particularly pertinent to aspects of the current implementation of the NT Land Rights legislation. The invitation to sign 99-year leases on land that the Aboriginal people already own, poses a threat to basic rights.


“We appreciate that this is a complex issue requiring specialised knowledge, but there continues to be worrying reports from places like Wadeye, Galiwinku and Tiwi Islands about the implementation of the legislation. Some traditional owners, who do not have access to legal documentation and for whom English may be their fourth or fifth language, feel pressured to make hasty decisions, and feel they are not fully informed of the implications of the choices they make. Reports suggest some even feel pressured to sign a lease in order to receive essential services such as additional housing, improved education and health services.


“Where there is unequal power, there is extreme danger of coercion,” Sister Katrina said.


“In working towards a truly reconciled Australia, we want to ensure that Aboriginal communities and their elders can freely make decisions about matters that affect their livelihood, that they feel fully informed in the decisions they make, and are without any coercion to surrender basic rights to gain essential services. We call on all people of good will in this country to ensure that every Australian has, by right, a standard of living commensurate with citizenship in a developed country.


“After all, where one person is diminished, all are diminished,” Sister Katrina said.


Sister Caroline Ryan RSM


Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia


Sister Katrina Brill RSJ

Congregational Leader

Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart


Released: November 29, 2006


Messages to: Sister Caroline Ryan RSM (Institute Vice-President)




DOWNLOAD A PRAYER commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People – Alice Springs, 1986 (Courtesy: Sisters of St Joseph).