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Indigenous Australians read the Bible through different eyes

'Our Aboriginal Christ' by Jasmine Corowa
Aboriginal minister Rev Dennis Corowa explains how Indigenous people read scripture.

We do it out of 60,000 years of culture. We were and remain the owners and custodians of this land. God was known and active among Indigenous people prior to colonisation by Europeans.

The author of Acts would suggest that the presence of Indigenous Australians was not a matter of chance or mere accident.

“[God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God…” (Acts 17:26- 27b NRSV).

God determined that Australia would first be occupied by the Aboriginal and Islander peoples. We are the first peoples of this land. We are part of nature – part of God’s creation, not apart from it.

As Indigenous people, we look at God in nature and our spiritual dreaming. Spiritually through our dreaming, we are linked to nature through our totems. It is about relationship and survival, as our dreaming is linked to plants, land, animals, birds and fish.

God placed Adam in the Garden and instructed him to “work it and care for it”. Humans were made as divinely appointed stewards of creation. God formed us out of the earth: “Man was created from the dust of the ground, and God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).

This is a very organic concept and to survive we are linked to this. Indigenous people are secure in their place in creation, following the seasons and food for survival. We speak of land as our ‘mother’.

Romans 1:20 describes seeing God in nature: “From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see the invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.”

The incarnate process of eternal life in the Spirit is something Indigenous people always celebrated through their totem beliefs. My totem is milmarjl – the barramundi. My spirit lives on in something that is alive, is of nature. I have to protect it and cannot eat it. I am a custodian of it.

Each Indigenous person has a totem. In this way we help to keep God’s creation in balance so that it sustains all of us.

The way Indigenous people read scripture may reveal truths in new ways. Our respect for the past traditional ways helps us view with scepticism and different eyes, new ideas and visioning. This is grounded in creation.

Rev Dennis Corowa was born in Murwillumbah, NSW, lived most of his life in Mackay and was called to minister amongst Indigenous people in Townsville in 1989. He is a father and grandfather, co-author of two published books on Indigenous Theology, and is chairperson of Calvary Presbytery.

Photo : ‘Our Aboriginal Christ’ by Jasmine Corowa