Sharing stories from the heart
Uniting Aboriginal Islander and Christian Congress (UAICC) members have recounted their experiences of cross-generational trauma – along with stories of hope and healing – at the 2018 National Conference held at Geelong Grammar School in Victoria.
More than 130 UAICC members from Australia gathered at Geelong Grammar School from 13-18 January to explore how Congress and the Uniting Church can work towards the healing of First Peoples.
Visiting Canadian keynote speaker Harley Eagle reflected on the impact of trauma among First Nations people in Canada. Mr Eagle is a member of the Whitecap Dakota First Nations Reserve in Saskatchewan and implements cultural safety practices at Island Health in British Columbia.
“Colonisation and unresolved trauma and all that pain affects our being and that can add to the way we interact with one another,” Mr Eagle said.
“So the journey of naming trauma and telling stories and speaking about it is not an easy task.”
During the conference, Congress members were invited to share their own personal stories of post-colonial trauma.
Mr Eagle praised Congress members for courageously speaking up about past injustices.
“If you look at the root of the word ‘courage’, it’s from the French word for ‘heart’,” Mr Eagle said. “So courage is less an act of bravery and valour and more one that comes from your heart.”
Interim UAICC national coordinator Rev Dr Chris Budden believes the effects of colonialism – invasion, loss of land and loss of culture – are passed on across generations.
Reflecting on the Gospel reading of Jesus raising a girl from the dead and healing a sick woman, Dr Budden said Jesus offers hope that healing is possible.
“Christian people like us believe that Jesus actually brings healing and he can break the cycle of trauma,” Dr Budden said.
“Jesus, by turning aside for this poor woman, was saying that you can’t have healing for the wealthy and powerful without understanding that poor people also deserve to be healed.
“Our own healing always depends on the healing of other people.
“We can’t separate ourselves and our lives… we must take the risk, start the adventure and trust ourselves that Jesus can in fact change our life.”
Other speakers at the conference included Dr Elizabeth Boase and Rev. Denise Champion. Dr Boase is a senior lecturer in Biblical Studies at Adelaide College of Divinity and has an interest in trauma and how that is dealt with in Scripture. Rev Denise Champion is an Adnyamathanha woman from the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Denise is a Minister of the Uniting Church, a member of Congress, past-Chair of the South Australian Regional Committee, leads pilgrimages onto her own country, and is a scholar who is much in demand as a Bible study leader.
On Tuesday, conference members visited UAICC Victoria’s Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Narana founder Vince Ross and Wadawarrung elder Aunty Corrina Eccles explained the role of the centre in promoting greater understanding of Aboriginal culture and history.
UAICC members boldly boosted resources for mission with the election and appointment of a full time National President – Rev. Garry Dronfield – and a full time youth worker for the next three years, to build on the strong work being done by young Indigenous church leaders around the country.
Rev. Dronfield is a Bundjalung man in placement at Sylvania Uniting Church in Sydney and served as Deputy Chairperson during on the previous National Executive.
Longtime Interim National Coordinator Rev. Dr Chris Budden will take up a part-time National Training Coordinator role as he transitions towards retirement.
Outgoing National Chairperson Rev. Dennis Corowa is also headed for retirement.
Story first printed in Crosslight (with additional reporting by Matt Pulford and Adrian Drayton)