As I write this, it is National Reconciliation Week[i] which is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. Twenty years ago there was a massive display of support for reconciliation – remember in Sydney, The Bridge Walk for Reconciliation
That was twenty years ago. Have we, as a nation moved forward since then? Just in the last decade there have been six reports of government joint committees, referendum council, expert panels to progress constitutional reform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Nothing has changed substantially. We still have this blot on our history of not acknowledging our First Peoples and listening to them.
During our time as volunteer literacy tutors in remote indigenous schools, I recall a conversation I had with an indigenous assistant teacher at Papunya State School in NT, whilst we were both munching on our lunch in the sun. The kids were playing football and ball games in the red dust during recess. The skill of the boys playing was remarkable, as was the fact that the 7-8-year olds did not get mown down in the scuffles. The bigger kids looked out for them and accidents were rare.
It was the time when Adam Goodes was being booed at AFL games, and the teacher was seeking an understanding. She asked, “Do all those going to AFL games feel they should boo every time he touches the ball? Why is it happening? Why such a strong feeling against a skilled indigenous player?” Feeling embarrassed, I tried to reassure her as best I could – not really understanding the reasons – that it was only a small percentage that were booing and that the majority of Australians did not support the actions. I don’t think I convinced her, and she carried that sadness with her. It was just another example of the struggle that indigenous people have in contemporary Australia. Those of you who have seen the movie ‘The Final Quarter’ will appreciate the level of racism and intolerance portrayed by so many in that whole sorry time.
In May three years ago, the Uluru Statement from the Heart [ii] https://ulurustatement.org/ was issued as an invitation from First Nations to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”. The Uluru Statement calls for structural reform including constitutional change. Structural reform means establishing a new relationship between First Nations and the Australian nation based on justice and self-determination where Indigenous cultures and peoples can flourish, and we all move forward. The statement, called for “Voice, Treaty and Truth” initiatives.
The proposal was flatly rejected by the Government at the time. There is a current effort, overseen by the Minister for Indigenous Australians to oversee the design of a voice to government – without constitutional change. As well, there is an indigenous-led movement, the From the Heart project, which is advocating the original form of the Uluru statement – a voice with constitutional change.
In this National Reconciliation week, to quote Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church [iii]
“Each of us are called to contribute to the shaping of an Australian nation, which tells the truth of our history of colonisation, of First People’s dispossession, the devastating effects of colonisation on the First Peoples of this land, and the injustices that have been and continued to be perpetrated.
“As the Uniting Church, we acknowledge that as First and Second Peoples, ours is a “destiny together” – acknowledging the wrongs of the past and the present and committing ourselves to take action to bring about a more just Australia. We hear Jesus calling us into the light of reconciliation.
“As we actively engaged in the process of reconciliation, God calls us toward and gifts us with a new human community of mutuality, dignity, care and compassion, and a respectful and deepened relationship with this ancient land”
[iii] See Dr Palmer’s message and video on https://uniting.church/national-reconciliation-week-2020/