As part of National Reconciliation Week, Kym Korbe, reflects on her childhood and faith journey while highlighting what we can all do in order to help the reconciliation process.
This year’s Reconciliation Week theme is, “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action!”
As a young Aboriginal girl growing up in urbanised Meeanjin (Brisbane), I longed for the holidays when my family and extended family would travel to Cherbourg to spend time together. When in community, my many cousins and I would spend time fishing, hunting porky (porcupine), riding horses, playing football and climbing trees. And at night, the kids would all sit around listening to the elders yarning about history or teaching us about country.
These traditions continue on today with my cousins who still call Cherbourg home and family still come to visit and learn during the holiday times.
This is not a dissimilar story to many non-Indigenous people who have relatives who live on properties. It is such a reinvigorating experience to visit where you can run and pass time immersed in nature and family—except perhaps the porky hunting. We as people share the basic human desires to connect with family, learn about our culture, find our place in community and have our voices heard.
Growing up in a large, strong, supportive family meant I didn’t realise until I was 12-years-old that being Aboriginal meant there would be obstacles I might have to overcome. In year seven, some friends within my class who had been my friends since year one, began to use discriminatory language to insult and humiliate me. It was then that I learned my first painful lesson in racism.
Having your heritage used as a weapon against you is a confusing, confronting and shameful experience.
Luckily I called on faith and the significant might of a proud black woman, “my mother” who took time out of her day to come and speak to the class about how hurtful this type of language is—not just to the person hearing the insult, but to those speaking it.
She talked to them about how in choosing to be hurtful to those who are different, you choose to hurt yourself and you close the world around you to the great things that can be learned from people from other countries and nations. As you can imagine this type of teaching was met with the bewildered, disengaged expressions of kids from a tough housing commission area, but eventually with the help of my wonderful year seven teacher, the message started to seep through. My classmates also started sharing things about their heritage that seemed strange to others and these conversations became transformative and healing teachings at a particular point in time and a place that was notoriously racist.
Did it stop the year seven racial taunts? Well yes it did, I am happy to report. Though more importantly, the change came from a shift in attitude, not through the fear of punitive measures. Although being a school in the 1970s that threat hovered in the background.
I suppose the point behind this reflection is, that if it had not been for the courage and conviction of my mother, the openness of my teacher to allow mum to talk to the class, and the willingness of my classmates to listen, my year seven experience could have been one of cruelty and harm instead of growth and friendship.
I benefitted directly from a reconciliatory process, but so do those who choose to participate in it.
Thirty-five-plus years have now passed and we are in a different time and place in our reconciliation walk. We are a nation who has traversed unsteady ground together and I ask, is the current year seven cohort’s experience of being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander much different to mine? I think in many cases yes, but in others it is not significantly different or improved or without shame?
There are various wonderful organisations and supported opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now, but the walk does not and should not end, because we are human, we make mistakes and we do not always make enough space for the quieter voices to be heard.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up less than three per cent of Australia’s population, so we need the voices of others to help amplify the messages of reconciliation.
The book of James 1:22 calls us into action: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
During the next week, could you make some time in your schedule to help amplify the reconciliation message?
Could you make a statement and add your name to the Uluru Statement Canvas?
Could you make a connection? Come and join myself and Danielle Sullivan from Wesley Mission Queensland for a morning tea and yarn at Fuel and Co in Nundah on 2 June. Just let me know if you are interested.
Happy Reconciliation Week Everyone!
Kym Korbe is Co-Lead, Uniting Church in Queensland’s Transforming Communities, Covenanting Working Group