From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
Next Monday (9 August) is International Day of indigenous Peoples. Last Wednesday (4 August) was National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day. The theme for National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day 2021 is: Proud in culture, strong in spirit.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have provided love and care for their children, growing them up strong and safe in their cultural traditions, for thousands of generations.
For our children, safety, wellbeing and development are closely linked to the strengths of their connections with family, community, culture, language, and Country.
A focus on Indigenous People is important right across the globe. All too often, colonising peoples have invaded and settled on the lands of indigenous peoples, who have cared for the country for thousands and thousands of years.
This has happened in Australia; it has happened in many other nations around the world. The need to remember the heritage and celebrate the living culture of indigenous peoples is strong.
In our case, the continent of Australia and its surrounding 8,222 islands have been cared for since time immemorial by the indigenous peoples of these lands. When the British began their colonising invasion and settlement of the continent, it is estimated that there were over 400 nations across the continent and its islands, with about 250 languages being used at this time. The land was not terra nullius (nobody’s land), despite the action of “claiming” the continent for Great Britain.
The situation of our First Peoples merits particular and ongoing attention. In Australia, we have NAIDOC Week in July to celebrate the survival and continuing culture and language. We have National Reconciliation Week, running from 27 May, the anniversary of the 1967 referendum which recognised the indigenous peoples of Australia and gave them the right to vote, through until 3 June, the day in 1992 that the legal case brought by Eddie (Koiki) Mabo was decided and the lie of terra nullius was laid bare by Koiki in the Australian High Court.
We also have Sorry Day, a time to pay respect and acknowledge the many thousands of Aboriginal and Torries Strait Islander children who were taken away from their homes, whom we now know as The Stolen Generation. And for indigenous peoples, 26 January is commemorated as Invasion Day, or Survival Day, as they remember the invasion that led to countless massacres and their systemic marginalisation as the imported European culture grew and dominated the land.
These occasions are very important for focussing our attention on the wonderfully rich heritage of the First Peoples of Australia. They also help us to remember the ways that we can work together with our First Peoples, to ensure a better future for the present and future generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
I recently participated in a workshop on advocating for First Peoples, led by Nathan Tyson, an Aboriginal man, of Anaiwon and Gomeroi heritage in North Western NSW. (This was part of the excellent Out Of The Box mission conference held in July.) Nathan is currently working as Relationship and Service Manager on secondment to the staff of the Synod of NSW and the ACT of the Uniting Church.
The workshop had two parts. In the first part, Nathan offered us a series of insights into the experience of the First Peoples of Australia, drawing on what we know about the history, customs, and current situation of indigenous peoples across the continent, and in the associated islands linked to this continent.
The five areas were: the impact of invasion and colonisation — the many massacres that occurred, and the almost complete absence of calling British settlers to account for these massacres — the Doctrine of Discovery and the resulting claim of Terra nullius about Australia — the Stolen Generations — and the current push to tell the 5ruth, listen to the Voice of First Peoples, and establish Treaties with the various nations of the First Peoples. You can read my reflections on this part of the workshop at Working with First Peoples and advocating for them – An Informed Faith (johntsquires.com)
In the second part, Nathan then provided a comprehensive set of practical pointers for us to consider. Given what we know about the situation and perspective of our First Peoples, what can we do to support, collaborate with, and advocate for these peoples? Here are the practical steps that Nathan provided for us to consider and adopt:
· Put yourself in the shoes of First Peoples and try to walk the journey with them as they experience it
· Talk with family and friends about the issues that you hear about, encourage truth telling, stand up against racism
· Develop relationships, listen deeply to the needs and aspirations of First Peoples
· Respect the right of self-determination of Aboriginal Peoples
· Undertake simple advocacy activities to support the needs and aspirations of First Peoples (guidance can be given by the UCA Synod, Assembly, Common Grace, ANTAR, and Amnesty)
· Join rallies and marches to show solidarity with First Peoples
· Pay to undertake a Walking on Country experience with a local organisation
· Employ First Peoples in your business, purchase goods from Aboriginal businesses, collaborate in social enterprises and community initiatives
· Make your church space available for use by Aboriginal Community, for elders, community, social gatherings
· Help with fundraising to support Aboriginal community initiatives
· Use the system: help an indigenous person to lodge a complaint with agencies such as NSW Ombudsman’s Office, Anti-Discrimination NSW, NSW Office of Fair Trading, Ombudsman for Telecommunication Industry, Energy Industry, Community Legal Services (for civil matters)
There are plenty of practical suggestions in this list. It is worth the effort to start implementing some of them!