Reconciliation Week 2022 – “Be Brave. Make Change.”
The theme for National Reconciliation (NRW) in 2022 is “Be Brave. Make Change.” I would like to share my thoughts on this theme, as it is timely for the Uniting Church.
In the context of this year’s theme, Aboriginal people have been being “brave” since 1788, enduring over 230 years of colonisation and colonial practices, including very real attempts at genocide. Aboriginal peoples have been speaking up against tyranny and oppression in this country since the First Fleet arrived and colonial occupation began to impact our peoples. We have survived, and continue to raise our voices for justice, and this is a testament to the bravery of those who came before us and who paved the way – often at great personal cost. It is also a testament to the resilience and courage of those who continue to stand up for the rights of Aboriginal peoples – those who respectfully demand recognition of unceded sovereignty, who seek a sovereign and self-determined place in this country, and who seek justice for the multitude of wrongs that Aboriginal peoples have endured, and continue to endure. Our mob are brave, and have been fighting to make change for centuries.
However, I believe the theme “Be Brave. Make Change.” is more appropriately directed at non-Aboriginal people, organisations and Governments. I believe it is directed at those who control mainstream structures and systems that impact First Peoples. It is directed at our politicians, CEOs and Boards of Directors. It is certainly directed at the leadership of Churches.
It is important to acknowledge today that some positive steps have been made by the Uniting Church in Australia, particularly in statements of truth telling and commitment. For example, the Statement to the Nation of 1988, the Covenanting Statement of 1994, and the revised Preamble to the UCA Constitution of 2009. Truth telling is important, and does indeed take courage. However, if we are honest, we must ask whether these commitments have yet resulted in real and tangible outcomes? Have our statements as a Church actually made a difference in the lives of the most disadvantaged in this country?
We often hear of the “lament” of past failures of the Church in their treatment of First Peoples, and we hear our Church leaders acknowledge that “there is more to be done”. It is now time for the Uniting Church to “be brave and make change”. It is time for substantive action, for purposeful and effective advocacy, and for the Church to make a Jesus-shaped difference in addressing injustice and standing against oppression. It is time for the Uniting Church to be the Uniting Church.
Two things we know: Nothing will change if we continue to do what we have always done; and, change will only happen if we have the courage to act.
My call to action is: “Put First Peoples first!”
In every action or decision our Church makes, at congregation level, at Presbytery level, at Synod level, and at Assembly level, the first question that should be asked is:
“Does this action or decision enable us to involve, support, and/or assist First Peoples, and if so, how do we ensure First Peoples’ perspectives and interests are properly considered and incorporated into what we are doing?”.
I need our Church to continue to be brave, and to make more substantive change. I ask every member of the Uniting Church to remember to “Put First Peoples first” and to look for practical and tangible ways in which our Church can respect, collaborate with, and support the self-determined needs and aspirations of, First Peoples.
If you need somewhere to get ideas as to how you can take action, please visit the Synods First Nations Resources page and read the Walking Together Action Plan 2021-2023 and the Guide for Aboriginal Community Engagement and Building Trust Relationships. The Uniting Church in Australia Assembly website also has a range of resources available: Click here to view them.
You can call or email me if you have questions – my contact details can be found here (scroll to the bottom of the page).
Be brave. Make change. Put First Peoples First. Thank you.
Happy National Reconciliation Week 2022!
Nathan Tyson, Manager, First Peoples Strategy and Engagement, Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT
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