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30 May 2021
Ways all Australians can play an active role in the process
Words Shirli Congoo
The theme for National Reconciliation Week (NRW) this year is ‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action’. Shirli Congoo, Salvos General Manager of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team, shares some ways all Australians can impact the ongoing process of reconciliation and understanding.
The date for National Reconciliation Week remains the same each year – 27 May to 3 June – because it celebrates two significant events in modern Australian history.
The first date, 27 May, marks the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum when more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and include them in the census. At this time, many Australians first began to understand that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived under assimilationist policies that were completely failing them and denying them their civil rights.
Then, 25 years later, on 3 June 1992, the High Court of Australia acknowledged that, in the face of historical facts and modern attitudes to human rights, the common law of Australia could no longer refuse to recognise the native title of the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders of Australia.
These two dates are significant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and our nation as a whole. They form part of our shared history. Both dates bring light to our individual and collective knowledge and greater understanding of past Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander civil rights breaches and the discrimination faced. They also help us question what still needs to be done to right the terrible wrongs faced by and forced on First Nations peoples.
My hope is for the truth of Australia’s shared history and the ongoing impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be heard and acknowledged so that our nation can continue to move forward into a place of healing, peace and unity.
Reading is one way to hear the voices of wisdom, knowledge, humour, spirituality and hope, and begin to understand and help solve issues such as poverty and injustice, incarceration, child removal, poor health and low educational outcomes, homelessness and more. As we read, we hear other voices and other viewpoints, and our understanding grows.
Far beyond the topics that spring to mind are many complex and wonderful stories, histories, and fiction written by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors.
I am currently reading Aboriginal Spirituality, edited by Anne Pattel-Gray. The sub-theme is ‘Aboriginal Spirituality: past, present, future’. The book is based on a collection of essays in which Aboriginal people explore their spirituality, particularly Christianity.
What captures my attention and heart is that these leaders were fearless when their voices weren’t elevated or valued. Yet, they insisted on the integrity and independence of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander expressions of spirituality.
Artwork from The Salvation Army Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan, reflecting strength, truth and working together, with Christ at the centre.
As we begin to understand more as individuals and as a nation, we must continue to move from being safe to being brave. We need to get out of our comfort zones to listen, learn and then act on our understanding.
Connection is a significant way to create better pathways of understanding, mutual trust and respect. It shows we value the importance of building positive and healthy relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures and futures.
One effective way to put understanding into action is to host or attend an NRW event. We can learn through this connection and move our understanding from simply being head knowledge to heart knowledge.
The point at which our understanding becomes action is where we put ‘boots’ on our commitment to reconciliation. It is also a way to say to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities that “we see you and we hear you, and we are invested in walking with you”.
We can all be influencers for peace, truth, justice, and reconciliation within our families, social circle, workplace and social media.
This is a good week to be intentional about having discussions around the theme of NRW in our areas of influence. There are many activities, television shows, books, music, events, articles, podcasts and videos to share that can act as a starting point.
Also sharing first-hand stories of our experiences and understanding can be very powerful.
Something essential to remember is that in sharing, our words and actions can have a much greater impact for good or for bad than we perhaps always understand. It is worth considering whether we would be proud or ashamed if all the words we spoke or actions we took were there for all to see.
The choices to learn, understand and then share positively are ours alone to make, so let’s all choose to make a positive difference.
The Reconciliation Australia website reminds us that NRW started as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993, the International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and was supported by major faith communities.
“In 1996, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation launched Australia’s first NRW. In 2000, Reconciliation Australia was established to continue to provide national leadership on reconciliation. In the same year, approximately 300,000 people walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of NRW, to show their support for reconciliation.”
So, NRW began in prayer, and I firmly believe that prayer is essential to peace, understanding and healing.
This year’s NRW theme highlights that reconciliation requires action, not just words, and aligns with the Bible. In 1 John chapter 3, verse 18, it is written, “Let us not love with words or speech, but with actions in truth”.
We must ask ourselves the question, “Can we even be truly reconciled while many of our First Nations brothers and sisters continue to live in poverty, injustice and disadvantage?” Our prayer should be based on the biblical principles of being a voice (Proverbs chapter 31, verses 8-9), sharing resources (Matthew chapter 25, verses 35-40) and showing love (Proverbs chapter 14, verse 31).
For related links to Ted Talks, books and films for children, teenagers and adults, download the Salvos guide at bit.ly/3uO7YiY