NAIDOC: A Week to Remember


NAIDOC Week is July 2–9 and incorporates the second Friday—which historically was celebrated as “National Aboriginal Day”. NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Signs editor Jarrod Stackelroth talks with Pastor Luke Stuart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries (ATSIM) director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Queensland region.

First, let’s get to know you a bit:
My Aboriginal heritage is the Wiradjuri people from Central NSW. My grandmother Rose Ingram was born on the Condobolin Aboriginal Mission. I’m passionate about assisting our people in wholistic areas of life that often get overlooked.

What is NAIDOC Week, and why is it significant?
NAIDOC (held from July 2 to 9) is an excellent opportunity to celebrate those who have driven and led transformation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities over generations.

It’s interesting to learn that major Aboriginal organisations, state and federal governments, and several church groups supported the formation of NADOC back in 1957. Many years before, Indigenous people would protest about equal rights on January 22, before Australia Day every year. In 1955 the date was moved to the first week in July to show that NADOC was more than just a protest; it was a celebration, a time to acknowledge the achievements of the world’s most resilient people group. The year 1991 brought a change to the name, to include the Torres Strait Islander people. Hence the inclusion of “I” for Islanders.

NAIDOC week acknowledges Indigenous achievements and contributions and builds awareness of them among the non-Indigenous people of our nation.

This year’s theme is “For our elders”. What does it mean? Why is it significant
Across every generation, our elders have played, and continue to play, an important role and hold a prominent place in our communities and families.

They are cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and our loved ones.

Our elders speak into all parts of life, with a storehouse of knowledge and experience passed down through many generations of Indigenous culture.

Many non-Indigenous communities have a survival-of-the-fittest attitude that provides little-to-no time to sit at the feet of elders and learn about how things used to be, can be and should be.

Our First Nations elders have endured a challenging time of injustice, separation and the loss of language, culture and land. Yet our elders are among the voices of reconciliation, forgiveness and creating a shared future for all Australians.

Our elders have been front and centre in providing passed-down experience on how to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous education, housing, health and culture, and speak into the narratives of caring for the land and keeping an ancient language alive. Among many other narratives, our elders are passionate to share their knowledge in the multicultural landscape Australia has become. Our elders’ voices can play a vital role in today’s issues as we navigate topics like equality, unity and decision-making for our people. We need to ensure their voices are heard when it comes to making future pathways for our people.

Above: Pastor Luke Stewart, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministries (ATSIM) director.

Do you think modern Australian society is lacking respect or the presence of elders?
The short answer is yes. Modern Australians are so entrenched in surviving the pressures of life—keeping the mortgage paid; providing education for our children and food for our families; the pressure of work commitments; and so on—that we have little-to-no time to care for our elders, to sit at their feet and learn about how they worked through the same pressures—and many other challenges—and are still here.

This demand makes it more convenient to put our elders into nursing homes and maybe visit a handful of times each year.

First Nations culture has different values for our elders. For many generations, our knowledge has been passed down through our elders through an oral platform. This is what I love most about my culture. Yes, books and other historical understandings are very important, but sitting at the feet of our elders and making time to appreciate, respect, listen and implement wisdom that has been passed down to them in the same manner, will always be better than reading about things with no physical connection.

How can we treat our elders better?
The most valuable thing we possess is time. It’s the gift of time every elder deserves. Hankies, socks and tea cakes play their part, but every elder wants more time with their loved ones. Sharing more of our valuable time with our elders will pay dividends to our society and help us navigate through some of the challenges we face today.

What does the Bible say about the concept?
The Bible has a bit to say about how we treat our elders. The Bible talks 179 times about the need for respect, the importance of, and the attitudes that society must never forget to have toward our elders. The Bible also informs readers that God places significant responsibilities on elders to pass skills, experiences, obligations and beliefs down through generations.

As a pastor yourself, how have you engaged with NAIDOC over the years?
I’ve done significant work on building a safe place for the work of reconciliation. It was necessary to turn our non-Indigenous environments into places where NAIDOC is celebrated, as much as it is in the First Nations space.

Several of our Seventh-day Adventist schools in South Queensland have been connected with local First Nations elders and a relationship has been formed where our elders— united with the schools—nurture and lead the narrative of the importance of celebrating NAIDOC. It’s great to see our schools and churches begin to display First Nations artwork. This is another step in creating safe places for First Nations families to consider sending their children to receive balanced and well-informed gospel messages.

Through the work of reconciliation, our schools are exploring ways to make First Nations achievements systematic in the fibre of the school, not only celebrating them in NAIDOC week.

A whole new world of possibilities has been opened for teachers to find innovative ways of teaching First Nations history, language, education, culture and other unexplored narratives, as they move towards creating a shared future in the education space.


There is a perception that Christianity is a colonial religion. What should Christians do with NAIDOC?
The first thing is to educate yourself about the history. In 1493, Pope Alexander VI issued a papal bull or decree, Inter Caetera, in which he authorised Spain and Portugal to colonise the Americas and its Native peoples as subjects. The law asserts the rights of Spain and Portugal to colonise, convert and enslave. It also justifies the enslavement of Africans. All world explorers carried this same worldview when searching for new lands to colonise.

When Captain James Cook surveyed the shores of the Australian coastline in 1788, he understood through the papal bull worldview that Australia was Terra Nullius, Latin meaning “nobody’s land”. Even after his encounter with First Nations people, Cook’s report to the British Empire was that the land was free to colonise, convert and enslave.

The Christianity enforced on First Nations people was not the gospel you and I read in our Bibles today; it was a papal dogma to convert, enslave and dispossess in the name of the Church of the day; not in the name of the Jesus who died so all would be saved through His shed blood for our sins.

When one comes to colonise, control and enslave through fear and torture, time is not given to understand different worldviews and locate bridges of understanding.

Bible-believing Christians have an excellent opportunity to connect with First Nations people and our communities through NAIDOC week to learn about each other and to make the time to understand each other’s worldview. Christians might be shocked to know that the First Nations cultural platforms are very similar to that of the Christian worldview.

How can our readers get involved in NAIDOC week?
NAIDOC is gaining momentum in many states, councils and communities. Many companies and businesses are holding events. Look on your local council’s website for events or consider hosting your own NAIDOC event.

There are some great ideas on how to run your own NAIDOC celebration on the NAIDOC website.

Apart from NAIDOC, are there ways to engage with Indigenous Australians all year round?
There are a number of events on the national calendar that provide opportunity to engage with Indigenous causes.National Close the Gap Day (March 16)

  • Reconciliation Week (May 27 to June 3)
  • The Coming of the Light Day (Torres Strait July 1)
  • National Sorry Day (May 26)

We don’t need a national day to acknowledge the world’s longest-continuing living culture. We need time to sit together and start a conversation over a cuppa, making lifelong friendships regardless of race, culture and skin colour. This is the true meaning of NAIDOC.

Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Ministries (ATSIM) is a department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia. ATSIM develops and coordinates national projects, events and resources to further the gospel commission among Indigenous peoples in Australia. The work of ATSIM takes in the whole expanse of Australia including the Torres Strait Islands. You can find out more by visiting

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