bringing them home: saying sorry to the aboriginal people
National Sorry Day was first observed in 1998, one year after a report was tabled concerning the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report, entitled as Bringing Them Home, acknowledged that these children were forcibly removed from their families and communities beginning in the early days of British occupation of the land, and that the government and missionaries were most directly responsible.
Reconciliation Week begins on May 27 with the anniversary of a Referendum in 1967 which removed clauses from the Australian Constitution that were discriminatory to Aboriginal Australians.
The week ends on June 3, the anniversary of the infamous Mabo case of 1992 in which the High Court of Australia recognised Native Title rights and overturned ‘terra nullius’ (the myth that prior to European settlement the land was empty of people and was unowned.)
Clearly this is a significant time for the Aboriginal people and for all Australians. It should be a time for us to celebrate the Indigenous people in this country, and what they have achieved. One Aboriginal leader and pastor in Redfern here in Sydney has a phrase in reference to Aboriginal leadership that seems appropriate:
Never have so few achieved so much with so little for the benefit of so many.
Sorry Day is also a time to think about the sins committed against the Indigenous people of this land, and to look forward to reconciliation, and hopefully more – restitution.
What could restitution look like? As a white fella my ideas are certainly not definitive, though I will reflect briefly on some theological areas that could be explored in the future.
Peter Adam of Ridley College has already done a fantastic job of covering this area in his lecture Australia – Whose Land?, so I will refrain from lengthy discourse.
Adam’s lecture begins by pointing out that Australia is God’s land – he owns it. This was indeed the foundation of the concept of Jubilee in Leviticus; God owned the land, and so according to his love and justice it should be distributed fairly, without some taking more than their share. Jesus asserts the need for this reality in his time when he declares “the Year of the Lord’s favour” in Luke 4.
In brief, this has significant ramifications for how Christians think about the land in Australia now; it has been far longer than 50 years (the time span for Jubilee), and the justice of God surely demands that we redistribute the land for those who originally owned it, and those who are most needy.
Jesus is critical of social constructions that obstruct equality for women and children. Mark 10 reflects this, where Jesus confronts divorce laws that benefit men and leave women vulnerable. In the same chapter Jesus confronts the disciples’ attitudes toward children, who are probably the most vulnerable people of his time (and probably of our time).
In following the implications of Jesus’ teaching and actions in these episodes, we must take seriously the call to ensure that women, children, and more widely family structures are protected. This is not merely about screeching for abstract family values at Christian lobby forums, but about calling ourselves and our government to account for the sins of separating families and destroying the lives of children in our past, particularly those of the Aboriginal people. It is also about ensuring that we protect Indigenous families in the future, and that we put in the required resources for Indigenous communities to thrive and benefit from the prosperity of Australia (and indeed all those who are marginalised).
It is of course the vocation of Christians to be people of reconciliation. Outside of the famous call to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5), the Pauline corpus is filled with references to the fact that the barriers that once divided (Jew/Gentile, master/slave, male/female etc.) are now dissolved in Christ.
This is directly relevant to Australia. Any divide that has existed between Indigenous Australians and those of European descent (or that still exists) is void in Christ.
Those in Christ are called to embody the reconciliatory call in every way. While this may not necessarily mean White Australians going out and becoming friends with Aboriginals (there probably aren’t enough Indigenous people), it does mean changing our attitudes, our spirits.
Indeed, it is important that we do not assume that the sins are limited to the past – we still have much to answer for in the present. The Andrew Bolt episode of recent times should serve as but one example of the issues that still reside within us today.
If we can change the way we think, then we are taking the first steps toward a more equal, just, beautiful and godly Australia.
So as we find ourselves in the midst of Sorry Day, let us reflect on our sins, on what Christ might mean for today, and what an imaginative future of reconciliation and beauty might mean.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this, because for me this is a challenging issue, and I have much to learn.
Posted on May 26, 2011, in Advocacy, Current Events, Mission, Politics and tagged Aboriginal Australians, Bringing Them Home, Indigenous Australians, Jubilee, Mabo, May 26, May 27-June 3, Peter Adam, Reconciliation, Reconciliation Week, Sorry Day, TEAR, TEAR Australia, Terra Nullius. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.