Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan has offered a greeting in the Yolgnu language in celebration of NAIDOC Week.
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme – Our Languages Matter – recognises the essential role Indigenous languages play in shaping the cultural identity and spirituality of First Peoples.
Prior to colonisation, more than 250 Indigenous language groups were spoken throughout the continent. Today only 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as elders pass on.
Mr McMillan worked with First Peoples for more than four decades in the Northern Territory prior to becoming president of the Uniting Church.
After 10 years in the Territory, Mr McMillan realised that not being able to speak with Aboriginal people in their own language was holding him back from deeper relationships.
“I realised they could not communicate at a deep level what they needed to with me and likewise I could not with them,” he said.
While working as the General Manager of the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA), he stood down and began an intensive course of study in the Yolngu language.
“Learning language was the key that unlocked a deeper intellectual engagement with First Peoples. It has expanded my world-view exponentially,” Mr McMillan said.
“Importantly, this new engagement with First Peoples helped me to understand the concepts of communal land ownership which were fundamental to lands rights cases being submitted at the time.
“Significantly, I was able to support Rev Dr Wan’kal (Djiniyini) Gondarra OAM and others in submitting the full implications of Native Title arising from the Wik Peoples v Queensland case to then Prime Minister Paul Keating.”
Mr McMillan was eventually adopted into the Gupapuyngu clan of the Yolngu nation and given the skin name ‘bulany’, which means red kangaroo.
“All First Peoples languages are life-giving – yours, mine, everyone’s,” Mr McMillan said in the short video.
“This week, all First Peoples stand strong in heart, mind, soul and spirit.”
The message was filmed in front of the painting given in 1994 by the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) to mark the covenant entered into with the Uniting Church in Australia.
“God is bound in a relationship with people in a covenantal relationship. In a similar way, First Nation Peoples and Second Peoples of the Uniting Church seek to be bound in covenant with each other and with God so that we may contribute to a more just church and nation,” Mr McMillan said.
“As the Uniting Church currently has a conversation seeking to understand more deeply what recognising the sovereignty of First Peoples would mean for the practises of our Church, we also seek to renew our covenant with our indigenous brothers and sisters.
“One of the ways we can demonstrate this commitment is by encouraging and enabling the use of First People’s Languages in our worship, meetings and theological education faculties and supporting national efforts to preserve indigenous languages.”
Narana Aboriginal and Cultural Centre will experience one of its busiest periods of the year as it hosts school holiday events to coincide with NAIDOC Week.
Visitors can join in daily ‘Experience Narana’ guided tours where they can learn about Indigenous artefacts, meet Narana’s emus and wallabies and discover how to throw a boomerang.
Groups are limited to 20 people per session so participants are encouraged to book beforehand by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress have also published worship resources to help congregations recognise and celebrate NAIDOC Week.