An Aboriginal Christian’s Perspective On Treaty, Sovereignty and Constitutional Recognition.

18 Nov
I find this a difficult discussion to take part in. I cringe when I hear the words “Christian perspectives” as if there is such a thing as a Christian view of kindness, justice and compassion that is necessarily preeminent to others. There is only one ethic in the New Testament and that is the all-consuming unconditional love for the other.
I struggle also when I find myself speaking on first nations issues as an individual who has had a privileged white education, who has been dispossessed of his culture and language, and who runs the risk of acting as colonially as those who now rule this land. Yes, I am a Wiradjuri man,
but I have no inherent right to speak on behalf of that nation or any of the other sovereign nations now under colonial occupation.
Yet I do have the right to speak on behalf of my own people – ABMT – Aboriginal but not tribal (traditional). As a dispossessed person without connections to traditional language, culture and community I stand in a different place but not alone. My people are many and we are searching for a way to have a voice, to speak into this place but find ourselves impeded by both white and black culture. I receive letters questioning my aboriginality from white culture and I hear indigenous voices questioning it also. “A shame he’s not black.”
As a follower of the way of Christ – kindness, respect and compassion – love; I find myself unable to support constitutional recognition on the grounds that it continues the colonial project of assimilation and erasure. Indigenous people suffered genocide in my hometown
with the last reported as being killed in 1876 according to one of the keyexterminators, William Cox.
In Amos Oz’ book Judas, the two protagonists are discussing the relationship between Jews and Arabs and come to the conclusion, “The Arabs live with the disaster of their defeat, and
the Jews with the dread of their vengeance.” It is a comment, that if we exchange the words appropriate to our situation holds true for the Australia in which we live, ““First Nations people live with the disaster of their defeat, and White Australia with the dread of their vengeance.”
As I child I learnt that white was good, black was not good. My father referred to anybody he deemed a good person as a white person regardless of whether they were white or not. Recently I officiated at a funeral in my hometown. A person who has known me all my life came up and said,“You’re blackfella’s young bloke, you’re young blackfella!.” 61 years later I still had no name, no place other than that of a nameless black fella.
Constitutional recognition enshrines such in the DNA of this country and gives credence to the stereotypes we read and hear each day. It erases any sense of being a real person with real rights. It erases from the national psyche the history of independent nations who have populated, governed and managed this land for 10’s of thousands of years. It continues to recognise these people only as the ‘previous custodians of this country”, if it recognises them at all, as I recently read on a plaque in a church school ground close to here.
As a follower of the way of Christ – kindness, respect and compassion – I support the process required to institute a treaty or a series of treaties acceptable to the sovereign first nations people. Note I have not said we need a treaty now. I have not and cannot advocate for such a thing until we fully understand and undertake the process required to do so. A treaty requires incarnational dialogue in order to overcome the ideologies,prejudices and deep trauma that stands in the way of constructing a workable relationship.
The model for this is breaking into the world of Jesus through which God became present in this world in order to empathise and dialogue with humanity in its own country. This took time, many centuries before God took such a step. It then took Jesus a lifetime to connect, challenge and dialogue with those around him. It has taken the Spirit of Christ many centuries to bring us to where we are to day. The Triune God has patience and we need to bring such patience to the task we face today.
If non-indigenous people are serious about working towards reconciliation then they must not be in a hurry. Simply saying sorry and popping us in the constitution may make you feel better but it doesn’t change much for us. We are still under occupation by a foreign government. To change that, even by a treaty, will require incarnational patience – sitting in the dirt and listening, not to answer or solve, but to hear, co-operate and get out of the way of the process. It begins with the first nations being given the opportunity to come together and agree on what such a treaty should look like.
Not an easy task. It won’t happen quickly but it must precede any dialogue with the non-indigenous society. Then dialogue can begin in kindness, respect and compassion, allowing communication and action to reflect a mutual desire for reconciliation.
What about my people? What is their place in this world of exile, disconnect and generational trauma? What are we to do while we undergo this long process toward treaty and reconciliation?
Jeremiah, writing to those in exile in Babylon,provides a blueprint for action:
29:Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
We are in exile but in exile we are not powerless. We are to remain in charge of our own heritage, traditions and dreaming; we are to build up our mob while living off-country in another’s land. We are to seek wellbeing for those we live amongst, in doing so we ensure the well being of our own mob.
This is not giving in to a foreign culture but becoming proud of who we are and who we can become. We are to excel in another culture so we can lead our own people into excellence for their own sake. Instead of responding to stereotypes of politicians, media shock jocks and naysayers, let us celebrate the extraordinary achievement of communities and individuals as they address our issues and find ways to be world leaders in health, education, arts, sports or whatever they turn their hand to. Let us ignore the temptation to blame, hate or attribute guilt to others. Let us avoid the temptation to play the victim.
Jeremiah reminds the exiles that right will win in the end, even though the end may take a long time (the meaning of the word 70), it will come.
“ 10 For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfil to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
Our people have a long and proud history, one that is still being made. It has not finished. A treaty will be accomplished but let us not allow the desire for such or the push by others for it and/or constitutional recognition prevent us from flourishing now and remaining sovereign in our own being. Let us get on with the business of building pride, respect and community within our mob so there can be no option but a treaty.


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