Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress (UAICC) members have recounted their experiences of cross-generational trauma – along with stories of hope and healing – at the 2018 National Conference.
More than 130 UAICC members from Australia are gathering at Geelong Grammar School this week to explore how Congress and the Uniting Church can work towards the healing of First Peoples.
This year’s conference has a distinctly Canadian flavour with visiting keynote speaker Harley Eagle reflecting on the impact of trauma among First Nations people in Canada.
Mr Eagle is a member of the Whitecap Dakota First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan and implements cultural safety practices at Island Health in British Columbia.
“Colonisation and unresolved trauma and all that pain affects our being and that can add to the way we interact with one another,” Mr Eagle said.
“So the journey of naming trauma and telling stories and speaking about it is not an easy task.”
Mr Eagle looked at the history of the Doctrine of Discovery as well as the area of epigenetics – the likelihood that trauma can cause inheritable damage to a person’s DNA.
During the conference, Congress members were invited to share their own personal stories of post-colonial trauma.
Mr Eagle praised Congress members for courageously speaking up about past injustices.
“If you look at the root of the word ‘courage’, it’s from the French word for ‘heart’,” Mr Eagle said.
“So courage is less an act of bravery and valour and more one that comes from your heart.”
Interim UAICC national coordinator Rev Dr Chris Budden believes the effects of colonialism – invasion, loss of land and loss of culture – are passed on across generations.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of Jesus raising a girl from the dead and healing a sick woman, Dr Budden said Jesus offers hope that healing is possible.
“Christian people like us believe that Jesus actually brings healing and he can break the cycle of trauma,” Dr Budden said.
“Jesus, by turning aside for this poor woman, was saying that you can’t have healing for the wealthy and powerful without understanding that poor people also deserve to be healed.
“Our own healing always depends on the healing of other people.
“We can’t separate ourselves and our lives… we must take the risk, start the adventure and trust ourselves that Jesus can in fact change our life.”
On Tuesday, conference members visited UAICC Victoria’s Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Narana founder Vince Ross and Wadawarrung elder Aunty Corrina Eccles explained the role of the centre in promoting greater understanding of Aboriginal culture and history
The Tasmanian delegation gave a report on the Leprena centre and its work supporting reconciliation between First and Second Peoples.
“We are making strong steps to weave stories of hope, of determination, of cultural wellbeing and, most importantly, of cultural safety,” Leprena manager Alison Overeem said.
“Aboriginal culture is built on relationships. We happen to be blessed with a moderator, Sharon Hollis, who took the time to get to know us, to form a relationship with us.
“The walking together message is not just on paper. What we feel that we’ve been privileged to do is to bring alive Congress Tasmania and to walk together with our Uniting Church brothers and sisters in a way that I never believed was possible.”
The conference covered a number of business items, including discussions about sovereignty and treaty and the creation of a full time National Youth Coordinator position.
Congress members also discussed the Uniting Church’s stance on same-gender marriage ahead of the Assembly meeting in July this year.
The Uniting Church Assembly has produced A2 sized posters to acknowledge the Covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. If you would like one of these posters for your congregation, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide a mailing address for the poster to be sent to.