In what was a beginning point for reconciliation, Paul Keating delivered a powerful speech at Redfern in 1992 where he acknowledged the basic wrongness of colonisation and its negative impact on Indigenous Australians as “we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.” Across Australia we have just finished NAIDOC Week designed to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The intention of such an initiative is a step towards understanding and reconciliation a result of the forced removal policies of the past as unacknowledged truth has a way of shackling the soul and imposing a sadness and unproductive false guilt on the heart. Shame on the other hand is another matter.
We all share the shame of our blood stained wattle as the benefits non-Indigenous Australians enjoy today of living in the ‘lucky country’ have, in the past, been attained on the back of Indigenous Australia leaving them with a false internalised image of themselves and a disconnection of identity on both ‘sides’. Our only escape from this disconnect is to continue to see that non-Indigenous liberation is bound up with that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Kevin Rudd’s apology was a historic step towards liberation and healing the wounds of dispossession, violence and oppression which Indigenous Australians have endured and survived.
As Christians, we are called to see Christ in Indigenous Australians who live in poverty, poor health and great anguish. Jesus identified with the marginalised and we who are His Body are also called to identify with them. During the process of reconciliation we must seek Christ, not by looking upwards or in churches, but set our gaze firmly on Him where He is to be found in the first peoples of this land, identifying with their pain, and working with them for justice, reconciliation and healing.
A deep, compassionate gaze is required to heal this nation of the scourge of colonisation, family dysfunction and child abuse in order to cure the causes — disconnection from culture and land and the lack of self-determination that feeds into a sense of helplessness. This more compassionate and informed gaze is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice!
Conor Finn, Dean of Formation