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Aussie priest sees similarities with home

Australian aboriginals looking at Dogrib ideas for self-government

Catalyna Correa
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Aug 09/02) - Father Matthew Digges arrived in Canada from Australia in mid-June. The purpose of his stay in the Mackenzie region is to visit various communities and perform seminary services.

His first stop was at the Dogrib community at Rae Lakes and Wha Ti where he spent two weeks. He arrived in Inuvik at the beginning of July, and during this time he also had the opportunity to visit Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk and Tsiigehtchic.

Digges was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, and attended the University of Sydney, where he studied pharmacy. He joined the seminary in 1984 where he studied philosophy and theology. After completing both degrees in 1990, he was ordained as a deacon.

He moved to the Kimberly Region of Australia to work at the Aboriginal mission in the town of Balgo, where he still lives. Balgo has a population of about 400 people and is northwest of Alice Springs which is located in the desert. The vast majority of the population is aboriginal except for a few employees who work for the government.

A major source of income for the town is the art co-operative for locals. The co-operative sells aboriginal paintings at a national and international level. Examples of artwork can be viewed at www.belgoart.com.au There is also a web site for the parish in Balgo and the address is www.users.bigpond.com/kutjungka

In 1991, Digges was ordained as a priest.

Similarities here and home

He says there are many correlations between Canadian and Australian aboriginal populations.

"The similarities are quite striking ... there are issues of remote location, mineral-rich unexplored territory, transient population and an ancient culture that owns the land," Digges said.

He said there are representatives from the Kimberly region of Australia that are examining the Dogrib method of self-government.

"They are looking at integrating parts of the Canadian solution and moulding it to our own needs," he said, adding, "There are aboriginal communities (in the Kimberly region) that self-regulate to the extent of local government like the Town of Inuvik, that would call in other government services when, and if needed."

Within the Kimberly region there are four to five million acres shared by five communities.

However ownership of the land resides with the government.

The region also has 52 language groups, although not all the languages are spoken. There are about 20 languages that are retained to a strong degree.

Digges will be returning to Australia in mid-October. He plans on spending time with his family in Sydney until he returns to his parish in Balgo in January.

He stays busy playing rugby whenever he has the chance and he also enjoys golfing.

Digges has left Inuvik to go on to the Sahtu region where he will be visiting for the period of a month.