Today (Sunday) we gathered at Lochinvar for the ritual of the handing on of the Tenison Woods Education Centre (TWEC) to the diocese. This was a beautiful ritual followed by afternoon tea in St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar’s facilities.
As well as these local opportunities we have remembered National Sorry Day on 26 May, the day we recall the events which created distress, dispossession, harm and heartache for the Stolen Generations and the report presented in 1997, Bringing them Home. We also acknowledged that 27 May marked the 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum which saw over 90 percent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and recognise them in the national census.
During the week about 300 Indigenous leaders gathered for three days at Uluru for the Uluru Convention. I think the Statement resulting from the Convention is very significant and I have placed it in its entirety as part of my message:
ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs.
This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
This week we enter into National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), which is an annual celebration and time for all Australians to reflect on our shared histories, and the contributions and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year’s theme is ‘Let’s Take the Next Steps’, which reminds us that all big changes take persistence and courage. I think the statement coming from the Uluru Convention is about taking next steps.
3 June marks 25 years since the historic Mabo decision, in which the High Court of Australia overturned the notion of ‘terra nullius’ and legally recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ connection to their country, a connection that existed prior to European settlement and continues today. This recognition paved the way for the Native Title system.
I wonder how many of you have seen signs on churches and schools during the month of May in relationship to First Australians as part of the Hunter Ecumenical Social Justice Network’s Give Us A Sign Campaign. This is a joint initiative of the Catholic, Uniting and Anglican Churches which attempts to provide succinct messages to the wider community about a social justice issue. This year we chose the theme of Standing Together with First Peoples of Australia. I think the signs we created are powerful and given that many of you won’t have seen them or are unlikely to visit the website www.giveusasign.com.au, I will share them with you in the hope that you may contemplate the story and issues of the First Peoples of Australia.
Celebrating First Peoples
Sovereignty and Land
Sorry Day – 26 May
Reconciliation Week (27 May – 3 June)
1967 Referendum – 27 May
Mabo Day – 3 June
Maybe some of you were aware of the AFL Indigenous Round over the weekend in which each of the players in the AFL teams wore an Indigenous jersey. The theme for this round was Respect, Relationships and Reconciliation. These words tie nicely into my message of last week, which focused on Restorative Justice. Unless we tell the stories of our past and recognise the harm done then reconciliation, forgiveness and healing are distant realities. As a Religious Education teacher of Studies of Religion I was blessed to teach Aboriginal Spirituality and connect with and grow in my understanding of the story of Australia’s First Peoples. I hope you take the time to contemplate this message so as to grow in your understanding and appreciation of the gift we have in this Great South Land of the Holy Spirit, the sacred land we are privileged to call home.
We are in the country of the the Worimi, Gamilleroi, Wanarua, Gweagul, Darkinjung, Biripi and Awabakal peoples. We respectfully acknowledge their Elders, celebrate their continuing culture and the living memory of their ancestors.