In January, I was privileged to attend some of the 2018 Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Conference (UAICC), which is held every three years.
The theme for the conference – Trauma and Healing – created space to name the pain and trauma in need of healing as well as celebrating the resilience and strength of First Peoples.
The roots of the trauma First Peoples experience in this country go back centuries to the beginning of Western colonisation. Western colonisation was built on a belief that the First Peoples living in ‘discovered’ countries were not fully human and so their land could be occupied and their culture dismantled.
This Western belief led to the loss of language, cultural knowledge and dislocation from land and belonging for many First Peoples including the First Peoples of Australia. This loss continues to impact First Peoples with the trauma being passed on generation to generation.
Rev Ken Sumner is a Ngarrindjeri man and former state director of the UAICC Victoria. He spoke of a sense of being out of place in his own country because of the disrupting effects of colonisation and the ongoing structural impact of Western settler-colonial ways that privilege Western ways of doing things. Ken said First Peoples are alienated in their own country even when they seek to have respectful relationships.
At the same conference last year Rev Denise Champion, an Adnymathanha woman, said that the Intervention in the south of the country in the 1800s had been so ‘successful’ that her people had lost much of their land, culture and customs.
I have pondered these issues over the last six months and, as I sat listening to stories of struggle, strength, pain and healing from First Peoples, I was reminded again of the inherited privilege I have as a white person that comes from the dispossession of First Peoples.
Most of us take this privilege for granted; we barely notice it day-to-day. We fail to take account of how our white privilege continues the trauma of colonisation on First Peoples.
If we are to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if we are to walk together as First and Second Peoples, if we desire the flourishing of First Peoples, we need to talk about and take account of the privilege of being Second Peoples. This is particularly true for those of us who are from European heritage.
What would it look like for those of us who are Second Peoples to talk seriously about our privilege? Are we courageous enough to talk with each other about the privilege we have and how we might divest ourselves of privilege? Are we willing to ask ourselves how we might become allies of First Peoples? These are important conversations for Second Peoples to have for our own healing and to assist in the healing of our nation and our church.
I would also encourage congregations and faith communities to seek to build a relationship with the First Peoples of your area with a deep sense that our liberation as a nation is directly tied to the liberation of the First Peoples. This has to be done with respect. First Peoples must have agency and power to decide how the relationship might unfold.
The UAICC is full of wonderful, courageous, resilient, broken, healing people. The very act of gathering to share together their trauma is healing. Their commitment to offering a holistic ministry of healing is inspiring. Their desire to continue to work with the Second Peoples in the church to find ways for us to more faithfully live out the Covenant relationship and Preamble is remarkable.
The UAICC is a blessing to the Uniting Church but we cannot take this for granted or fail to play our part in healing the trauma of colonisation. This year may we renew our commitment to truly walking together by doing the hard work of reflecting, repenting and relationship building.
Resources to explore the Preamble to the Constitution can be found at https://assembly.uca.org.au/walkingtogether
You can read Ken’s presentation to last year’s President’s Conference on being out of place here.
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.