Learning from First Nation’s perspectives on caring for creation

Learning from First Nation’s perspectives on caring for creation

Last week’s edition of Insights reported on the launch of the Uniting Climate Action Network. What a great evening it was, with more than 60 Uniting church members involved. If you missed the launch you can view a recording of the evening here.

UCAN is a key element of the next phase of the Synod Climate Action Strategy. It seeks to support Uniting Church members as they put their faith convictions about care for the earth and stewardship of creation, into action.  In this way, UCAN aims to build on one of our strengths as a church, our presence in nearly every community in NSW and the ACT. Another strength UCAN will strive to highlight is our diversity across the church and the rich variety of theological and ecological perspectives we bring, in understanding our role as caretakers of God’s creation and responding to the challenge of climate change.

– For those wanting to know more about UCAN please fill out this brief survey.  This is important to give us a better idea about your interests and help shape our next steps as a network.-

The UCAN launch featured several of these perspectives. Nathan Tyson, Manager of First People’s Strategy and Engagement for the Synod, gave a short presentation on First Nations history and views about caring for country. Many present found his comments both helpful in extending our understanding, as well as sobering and challenging. The challenge is to learn from this wisdom in shaping our response to the challenges we all now face.

The full text of Nathan’s talk is reproduced below.

Care for creation, care for country – Nathan Tyson

Yaama. Hi everyone.

My name is Nathan Tyson, and I am the Manager of First Peoples Strategy and Engagement with the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT. I am an Aboriginal man, born in Gadigal country and have spent most of my life in Sydney. I identify with my Anaiwon and Gomeroi heritage, namely the Brown, Munro and Sullivan families, who are from the Tingha and Bundarra area of NSW.

I recognise that different Aboriginal people will have a diverse range of views on this topic, and want to be clear that the views I express here are just my own.

Aboriginal peoples believe that we have always been here, in this country, since the beginning, since creation. We have taken a role as custodians of country since creation. For Aboriginal people, country is at the core of who we are – it is central to our culture, our customs and our ceremonies. The land is integral to who we are, our values and our worldview.

Culturally, as custodians of country, we do not look at the land as an asset to be bought and sold – our land is what sustains us and gives us life. Our cultural relationship with land is both reciprocal and symbiotic. We have cared for country, living sustainably and in harmony with the landscape and the seasons, and only taking what we needed, and our country sustained our Peoples for tens of thousands of years.

Our responsibility is to care for the land and ensure its wellbeing, as we know that without a healthy country, we will not survive. 

As caretakers and custodians of country in a colonised land, we have been significantly dispossessed of our traditional country, of our ancestral birthright, and consequently, in many instances, we have been denied of our ability to care for country in the manner we have for millennia.

Our people have suffered much grief as we have watched our country be damaged and destroyed. So many of our special places, places connected to our creation and dreaming stories, have been bulldozed or destroyed, preventing or impeding the cultural practices of care and renewal that are central to effective custodianship of country.

Our First Peoples have watched as their country has suffered due to clearing of habitat, destruction of ecosystems, and the introduction of unsustainable farming practices,

Sadly, Western ways of capitalism, wealth creation, self-interest and greed have seen our country degraded, pillaged and treated as a consumable commodity. Our trees, rivers and animals, have been, and continue to be, sacrificed in the name of profit. Short-sighted ambition for personal wealth, status and power are causing long term harm to our country.

The human impact on the planet is obvious – we can’t continue to decimate the land, clear forests, pollute rivers, drive animals to extinction, ruin ecosystems, and spew CO2 into the atmosphere without consequence. I read today that in 2019 humans contributed over 43 billion tonnes of C02 into the atmosphere. 43 BILLION Tonnes.

We must be honest about the impact mining and heavy industry are having on the planet. We must be honest about needing to make difficult decisions in terms of our consumption and our demands as consumers. We must acknowledge the need to return to a more sustainable and respectful relationship with our environment.

Let’s face it, only a planet covered by trees, with healthy river systems and a healthy ocean will sustain the human population beyond the next century.

I encourage people to think more about the sustainable approach to caring for country that is practiced by Aboriginal peoples. Our peoples have the knowledge of how to care for country and live sustainably – in recent years we have seen this knowledge begin to be respected and being re-introduced, for example in practices such as cultural burning and land management.

We need to think beyond using Aboriginal cultural knowledge and wisdom just to save houses and lives from bushfires, and realise that the same knowledge and wisdom can help to save the planet.

Also think about Aboriginal cultural values of caring and sharing that are a part of Aboriginal cultures…where the wellbeing of all in the community is prioritised over the wealth of the few. There are important lessons in the wisdom of the world’s oldest continuing cultures.

In summary, I believe First Peoples have a lot to offer forward in addressing climate change, caring for country, and living more sustainably. Thank you.


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