A little over a week ago I was standing in Juniper Hall, Oxford Street, Sydney as one of 30 finalist in the Doug Moran Portrait Prize, the richest art prize in Australia, I could not know how prophetic my little painting would prove to be.
Titled “Exile – The Self Portrait of the Artist As An Indigenous Man” it deals with the experience of being excluded from full participation in the life of your country, both traditional and modern. Excluded by a fence the disembodied individual is clearly not on country and has no way of being so. It references the idea that no matter what you do you will always be excluded. Experiences such as the closure of remote communities, the Northern Territory Emergency Response, income management, the high rates of incarceration of young indigenous people, poor health, little or no appropriate education and the lack of respectful dialogue with indigenous leaders on issues that matter all point to the exile we now live in.
Today I have just read that the Federal government has rejected the recommendations coming out of the Uluru Declaration as prepared by the Referendum Council, a government sponsored body. The sticking point is the idea of a legislated elected indigenous body to provide input into the government of this nation with particular emphasis on policies relating to indigenous matters. There is also no interest in the development of a truth and reconciliation process to address the genocide of the past 200 plus years
In my sermon at the National Reconciliation Week Evensong in the Cathedral a week after the Uluru Declaration I warned that there was little or no appetite from both political parties leaders for its recommendations. Their responses to the announcement were underwhelming to say the least.
In that sermon I asked that he Anglican Church of Australia and the Diocese of Melbourne to fully endorse the statement and to fully implement it within the church structures. This would require the empowerment of National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Anglican Council in terms of funding and role nationally and the placement of Aboriginal clergy and elders in leadership positions within this Diocese. It would also require the implementation of a Truth and Reconciliation process, a Makarrata, to address the role the church played in the destruction of indigenous culture and spirit in the genocide of the last 200 years.
In light of the Federal governments failure, the need for and opportunity to fully implement the declaration in the church, would allow us to take a Gospel leadership role in the life of our country. If ever there was an opportunity to place the church at the centre of our nations life and to stand for what we say we believe, this is it.
At this time the Reconciliation Action Plan group working party has commenced work on the next stage of the Reconciliation Action Plan. We now have the opportunity to make radical gains and those of us on that group will seek to do so. We will also seek the input of indigenous and non-indigenous people to guide us as we work to bring about the full implementation of the Uluru declaration.