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Morale boosting trip is in jeopardy

PLANS by a Brisbane Catholic academic to send an Australian indigenous dance group to West Papua later this month to boost the morale of the local people are under threat following a funding shortfall.

Dr Greg Poulgrain’s plans to send the Wanum Dance Group to the Lake Sentani Cultural Festival in West Papua from June 19 to 21 were put at risk late last month when another self-funded indigenous dance group pulled out.

Now he and several others, including director of the Habitat Pacific aid agency Malcolm Prowse are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to find government and corporate financial support to ensure the tour goes ahead.

The people’s need for support has become increasingly urgent as media reports, quoting sources such as Fr Cayetanus Johanes Tarong superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in West Papua, speak of the killing of at least 100,000 people there by Indonesian military forces.

“The Wanum Dance Group, recently back from a tour of Japan, put their hands up,” Dr Poulgrain told the Catholic Leader last week.

“But they will need funding – about $20,000 – to cover fares, accommodation and food for their time away.”

Mr Prowse, who is a recipient of the 2005 Gusi Peace Prize, said he has visited Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney in the hope of securing funding for the dance group to visit West Papua.

“We particularly believe the Federal Government has a responsibility to support indigenous pride,” Mr Prowse said.

“Such support is the flipside to (government) Intervention (in indigenous communities). It’s about the responsibility that goes with Intervention.

“This is not theatre this is real people in real need of support.

“It’s about two indigenous groups of people respecting and supporting each other.”

Dr Poulgrain said news of the dance group’s planned arrival had led to great excitement and anticipation in the Sentani area.

“Lots of chiefs have been turning up at the home of the Bupati (head chief) Habel Melkias Suwae to say how inspired they’ve been by the news.

“I can still remember the tremendous morale boost that all involved received when a dance group from West Papua turned up at a festival in Bellingen, New South Wales, several years ago.”

Dance group co-ordinator Jeremy Geia said the group, comprising the Mungkan and Tyore clans from the western Cape York region, was eagerly looking forward to the chance to perform at the Lake Sentani Cultural Festival.

“People in the dance group understand a bit about isolation – it was only seventy years ago that this area of Cape York first had contact with missionaries,” Mr Geia said.

“All group members are looking forward to performing in what will be a familiar community situation. They’ve also gained a lot of confidence from (a) trip to Japan.”

The population of West Papua is mainly Christian, with about 30 per cent Catholic.

On May 19, Fr Tarong led a delegation to meet with officials of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops seeking help to ease what has been described as a “humanitarian crisis” in the region.

Dr Poulgrain, as a member of the Brisbane archdiocesan Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, prepared a special briefing report on the West Papuan situation for Archbishop John Bathersby earlier this year.

In preparing the report, he drew on his long contact with West Papua as well as his research as lecturer in South East Asian history and politics at both Queensland and Griffith universities.

The briefing report to Archbishop Bathersby gave a detailed political history including several incidences of massacres of the West Papuan people by Indonesian forces.

Sections of the report also referred to widespread corruption: “Special attention should be given to the exploitation of forests in (West Papua) as most of the companies engaged in illegal logging (untaxed) are linked with the Indonesian army”.

Dr Poulgrain said it was vital Australians support the West Papuan people in their time of need.

“It’s a terrible irony that the indigenous people of one of the richest countries on earth are the poorest.

“These people are suffering a multitude of injustices – from rape and murder to the multi-national theft of the island’s rich natural resources which include gold, copper, oil, timber and fish.

“Sending the Wanum Dance Group would be an important sign of solidarity.”

Funds to help the group on their way can be sent to “Papua Support”, the Archdiocesan Development Fund, BSB 064 786, Account: 519190100.

Alternatively, Dr Poulgrain can be contacted on 0414 761 612 to make other arrangements for donations or for more details.

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