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3 September 2017

Listening to the Uluru Statement from the Heart

"I believe that this is a time when the Australian Church needs to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices."

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3 September 2017

Having previously worked in medicine and criminal/coronial law, Celia Kemp is now the Reconciliation Coordinator for the Anglican Board of Mission. She lives at Campfire in the Heart, Alice Springs.  This article is adapted from the Anglican Board of Mission website (abmmission.org) and was printed in the most recent edition of EREMOS.

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

- Isaiah 43:19

During the National Reconciliation Week, the Australian Church was presented with a voice from the desert asking for change in the name of truth and justice. We would have to be very ignorant of our own Scriptures indeed to dismiss it out of hand.

Over 250 First Nations representatives from language groups and cultures all over Australia had come together and chosen collectively to set out a way forward.

Their lyrical and powerful ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ is short – less than a page. In it they speak of coming ‘from all points of the southern sky’ to speak about land, sovereignty and powerlessness.

They call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice in our Constitution and a Makarrata Commission (the word means the coming together after a struggle) to supervise agreement-making between First Nations and Government, and for truth-telling about history.

‘In 1967, we were counted; in 2017, we seek to be heard’, they conclude.

This last part seems too obvious to need saying. But it does need saying, for hearing takes time and a willingness to be changed by what we hear. It is not an easy thing and we don’t do it very well.

This has been starkly evident in some of the early responses to the Statement. Some have seen fit to dismiss it within days. There has been a strange tendency to focus only on what certain people tell us will be accepted by ‘the Australian people’, rather than on the content of the Statement.

As though ‘the Australian people’ have had a fixed view across time

As though there is no prospect that ‘the Australian people’ will be changed in any way by listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. 

I don’t believe this.

I wonder if those so quickly dismissing it don’t either.

Perhaps it is precisely because the statement is so powerful, because of who has said it and what they said and where they said it, that it has prompted some to such a hasty rejection.

I believe that this is a time when the Australian Church needs to stand in solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices.

We can do this by reading and carefully considering the Uluru Statement by ourselves and in our churches.

We can do this by speaking into the wider community the importance of listening deeply and well to this Statement, and allowing ourselves to be changed by it.

For if we filter everything Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people say through a lens of ‘Is it immediately acceptable to me?’ then reconciliation is meaningless.

And should our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Church bodies decide, over time, to consider and respond to this statement, we will need to listen very closely to what they say the Church should do about it.

About the author

Having previously worked in medicine and criminal/coronial law, Celia Kemp is now the Reconciliation Coordinator for the Anglican Board of Mission. She lives at Campfire in the Heart, Alice Springs. The Uluru Statement From The Heart can be found at https://www.referendumcouncil.org.au This article is adapted from the Anglican Board of Mission website (abmmission.org) and was published in the most recent edition of EREMOS.

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Footprint cover image courtesy of Celia Kemp.

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