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See the person, not the stereotype

Vince Ross, former National Chairperson of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress

THIS YEAR’S National Reconciliation Week held in June marked its 13th anniversary with the theme, ‘See the person, not the stereotype’.
The event offers an opportunity for all Australians to focus on reconciliation and celebrate the rich culture and history of Indigenous Australians.
It is a time to reflect on achievements and to renew commitments to reconciliation.
Journey asked the following people their views on the national event.

What does this year’s theme ‘See the person, not the stereotype’ mean for you?
Leonie Joseph, Counsellor, Indigenous Family Care Service, Lifeline Coral Coast Capricorn, Bundaberg
“Historical events have created a stereotype that needs to be deconstructed and reconstructed to value the traditional past and to sustain the cultural identity into the future.
“There have been many successes and achievements which have been the result of positive government policies and positive community attitudes and actions.
“As a nation Australia needs to be encouraged to see our Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders as individuals and to challenge the stereotypical perception, by acknowledging that time is needed to reflect and understand, to heal and to respectively seek solutions together.”

What do you think of the culture and history of Indigenous Australians?
Vince Ross, former National Chairperson of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
“I strongly believe that the Creator gave us our land and our language and the responsibility to care for this nation.
“We have been dehumanised by government policies that fail to recognise and value our contribution to this land in the way we have maintained it for thousand of years.
“It is the oldest living culture in the world and to this very day can provide the answer to many of the social, physical and spiritual issues that people face in these times.
“I value our culture in this 21st Century that continues to be proactive in the way it challenges people to turn away from a materialistic society to a holistic way of life that is sustainable.”

How did you feel when you heard the National Apology to the Stolen Generation by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at last year’s event?
Damien Conley, Principal Advisor Rural and Remote Services, Blue Care, Brisbane
“The National Apology was an incredibly moving event for me and when the Prime Minister said, “for the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry”, for me this was a poignant moment in Australia’s history.
“At Blue Care we have worked tirelessly to make our Indigenous Care Strategy a success.
“The commitment and willingness within our organisation to take up the challenge to commit to redressing the unacceptable 17-year life gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples makes me extremely proud to be a part of Blue Care.”

How can we better learn from Indigenous people?
Dr Robert Bos, Director of Pilgrim Learning Community with the Queensland Synod, Brisbane
“It takes time to befriend people and get to know them at depth, but I have invariably found people to be gracious, hospitable and, with a little time and encouragement, begin to share their lives and their stories.
“I hope that this Reconciliation Week we will take time to get to know an Indigenous person or family nearby.
“You will be greatly enriched and humbled, as I have been.”

What can Australians do to strengthen reconciliation in their own communities?
Rae Mavor, retired ESL and Multicultural Education Teacher, Gold Coast
“It is important to know ourselves and our attitudes, to grasp opportunities big or small, to speak out when attitudes of prejudice show themselves, even among friends and family.
“50 years ago I taught Aboriginal children in North Australia and have since seen leaders emerge Australia-wide in Government, community and the Church.”

How do you see the aspirations of reconciliation coming to fruition in the future?
Richard Cassady, Youth Families and Community Coordinator, The Gap Uniting Church, Brisbane
“I have seen the fruits just recently. In 1998 I was part of a delegation of six senior students (three indigenous and three non indigenous) from Bundamba Secondary College to attend the first National Youth Reconciliation Conference in Darwin.
“The conference inspired the Bundamba students and staff to hold a State Schools conference in the Ipswich region in 1999.
“I still have vivid memories of the closing ceremony where the student assembly broke out in song with the Sister Act hit ‘Oh Happy Day’.
“I visited the school a couple of weeks ago and met a member of the indigenous community who remarked on the positive environment at the school and spoke of the platform laid down many years ago.
“To come together is not easy.
“There is a cost, sometimes financial, sometimes to give and take in other ways for all parties.
“For the school at Bundamba that investment in those six students meant a return 100 fold in positives and it laid a spirit of willingness to overcome cultural diversity by staff and students.
“It seems reconciliation can work if all parties are willing to participate.”

Photo : Vince Ross, former National Chairperson of Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress