Out of the pressure cooker of social isolation, underlying stresses and injustices have broken out.
The appalling vision of George Floyd’s death at the hands of someone sworn to defend life and property is particularly grievous, and has given power to indigenous people in our land to bring to us all, again, their experience of life here in Australia. That footage should give the rest of us better ears to hear.
It’s a confronting story. It’s a story that we’ve been seeking to address as a nation since 1967.
And we’re not there yet. Many First Peoples have found a way to honour their story and live successful and prosperous lives in contemporary Australia, and that is increasingly happening.
Yet still, the figures for so many indicators of healthy living indicate that we are nowhere near where we want to be as a nation.
Too many young First Peoples in prison; too many lives marred or cut short by violence; too much ill health; too many people not achieving anything approaching their hopes and dreams, nor even believing it’s worth having a go.
First Peoples had an economy of life before European conquest. That economy of life was rich and complex. It wasn’t perfect; we’re all human, but it substantially worked. But while culture still exists, more so in some places than others, the indigenous economy has been completely disrupted, and another economy imposed.
And where people can’t see how they can participate in an economy that gives them the opportunity for prosperity and dignity, however they define it, the devil makes his play.
First Peoples leaders have proposed a way forward—the Statement from the Heart. As a church, we’ve endorsed their vision and their proposal.
If you haven’t read the statement yet, here’s a link to it. It seems pretty reasonable to me.
In the Uniting Church in Queensland, we have a deep commitment to walking together with the First Peoples. Late last year, we heard their voice for a new arrangement of oversight and established the Carpentaria Presbytery. New things are happening—training and formation of First Peoples leaders, an indigenous pastor at Aurukun, where we haven’t been able to provide leadership for about 10 years.
Through the Covenant Action Plan, – a cooperative plan developed under the Strategic Mission team at the Synod office, people are going on “walks on country” to deepen their appreciation of indigenous life. That plan is delivering in a diversity of places. Real partnerships are developing. We’re working at doing better in the life of the church.
If you’re interested in more information, or looking for ways to engage, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll get back to you.
At the end of the day, however, this is a big question about what kind of commonwealth we want to build.
And it is the question that lies at the heart of the human story, going back to Cain and Abel. Our story says that we are “our brother’s keeper”; we are a common-wealth —we live together, and when one part suffers, we all suffer. So it is for us to have ears to hear, a heart to respond, and a will to co-create a community where there is a fair go for all.