Today is reconciliation Sunday, a day set aside to contemplate the history of our country, in particular, the history of the relationship between the sovereign owners of this land and those who came here by sea.
This is a contested history, one of much rhetoric, deceit, dishonesty and denial on all sides yet it is imperative we deal with it and deal with it without delay. Some think, ‘It happened 200 years ago, move on’; others think, ‘This land was uninhabited and no one was here’ the doctrine of Terra Nullius; others still think ‘to the victors the spoils’.
To the indigenous nations inhabiting the land then and now, this was and still remains theirs and those who came here are invaders who have yet to recognise their rights and, more importantly their existence. The English clash with the indigenous people was rife with massacres, annihilation and ongoing policies to rid the land of black people. The issue then and now was about colour and the supremacy of white over black in terms of anthropology.
A couple of months ago I went back to Mudgee and took the funeral of my mother’s best friend. After the service, outside, a man came up to me and asked, ‘Your Blackfella’s young bloke, aren’t you? Your Young Blackfella!” Now this man had known me since I was born and nowhere in the conversation that followed was I referred to by name. Here I am, dressed in Anglican priests robes undertaking English ritual, and I was still Young Blackfella with no name.
The issue of reconciliation, no matter how we dress it up, is far from being resolved. The issue of colour remains central to our discussion. Growing up I understood white was equal to good, and black to bad. My father, part indigenous himself, referred to a good bloke as a “White man”. “He’s the whitest bloke I know”.
In today’s gospel are two statements that may be helpful to us. I have grouped them together as one to help understand the importance of acknowledging the situation and bringing about healing and hope for all:
7“But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed.”
“10When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.”
What is the word or words we must speak so God’s servant, the people of this country may be healed?
- The word of identity. Recognising, finally, that Australia was not an empty country and accepting that people existed here before the English came. The doctrine of Terra Nullius, the empty land, by definition denies the existence of the original people and therefore denies them identity as human beings. They have no name and will always remain Blackfella.
- The word of equality. Once we accept there are and were people here who had and have sovereignty over the land with sophisticated government and land ownership structures, then they must be treated as equals, giving them the respect of being able to govern themselves and setting about coming to a treaty with them on equal terms.
- The word of reparation. Once we have recognised them and granted them respect of equality, we then must set about providing reparation, not welfare, to the original owners. Reparation means providing adequate compensation for another’s loss, loss of land, country, identity, culture and ritual. Money is but a part of this process, an important part and if a small percentage of all land taxes and rates collected were made available to the traditional owners, much of the so called aboriginal issues could be resolved.
The result of these three little words?
- Health. People who are recognised, respected, treated as equals and compensated find a path to physical, psychological and material well-being. We know that to be the case for all those affected by the child abuse scandal. It is no different in this case.
- Wholeness. When you live in a foreign land under another’s customs and without the possibility of returning you are a fragmented, pulled apart, shattered. The Israelites knew that experience in Babylon and Egypt, as do the Palestinians do today. Wholeness is about returning to what gives you meaning and identity and the three words begin the process to such a state.
- Reconciliation. Reconciling the split within is the outcome of these words. The split within the individual, the original owners and within those who have come here and feel the disconnect with the Australian story. Reconciliation is not about black or white. It is about you and I coming home to, and being comfortable with the truth, and being able to live out of such truth in a life giving way for all.
These are the words of hard work, dialogue and deep communion with another this country has avoided and continues to do so. The referendum of 1967, the Rudd apology and now the constitutional recognition are western solutions to an issue to which there are no IKEA DIY solutions. A culture 50,000 years old is not yet ready to resolve the difficulties on another’s terms.
Vincent Lingari said, during the Wave Hill walk off, ‘we know how to wait.’ They waited 8 years. It is a lesson western culture needs to learn.
There will indeed be a moment in time when aboriginal people will welcome the newcomers into their country and they will do so without the need of voting rights, apologies or constitutional recognition.
It will happen when we take the time to hear the words we need to say and say them.
It will happen when we sit down and learn to wait with each other to hear these words together.
It will happen when, like the centurion and Jesus, we connect at the deepest place of respect, trust and openness, what Merton calls communion.
May we begin this waiting together today.