Today marks the end of NAIDOC Week 2021. NAIDOC’s history started in the 1920s as a boycott of Australia day in protest against the status and treatment of indigenous Australians, leading in 1938 to a Day of Mourning, a protest day held annually until 1955 on the Sunday before Australia Day, when it was decided it should also be a celebration of aboriginal culture, and the date was shifted to the first Sunday in July.
This led to the formation of the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee NADOC, supported by state and federal governments and many church groups, with the second Sunday in July becoming a day of remembrance for Aboriginal people and their heritage.
Then in 1975 when NADOC was first composed entirely of Aboriginal members, it was decided the event should cover the full week between these 2 Sundays.
Since 1991, NADOC was expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people and culture, and the committee was renamed as NAIDOC – the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. Each year, the Committee choose a theme reflecting important issues and events1.
I have felt a bit daunted and overwhelmed in preparing for today. I’m aware that we each have our own journey in making sense of the gifts that are our own lives and the world we co-inhabit.
What does the 2021 NAIDOC theme “Heal Country: Heal our Nation” mean to you, to me? Probably different things to each of us… I invite you to reflect and share your meaning-making this morning… a few thoughts from me, and the terrific website resources of NAIDOC Week 20212, Common Grace 3 and Common Ground 4 I have also found it helpful to sit with journeys of first nations peoples through their books, e.g. Archie Roach 5, and Stan Grant 6, and stories in the media this week – too many to name all in ABC Radio and TV, but among those that impacted me powerfully were Uncle Jack Charles story to find his family, on ‘Who do you think you are?’ (SBS On Demand), and Firestarter: The Story of Bangarra (ABC IView)… as always, I am indebted to Di for readability and attention to inclusive language.
In contrast to first nations folks, whose identity is grounded in belonging – “Who’s your mob?” “Where are you from?” “What is your Country?”, many of us wrestle with the concept of a sense of “Place”, as Vic said beautifully in his poem a few weeks ago.
My comments no doubt reflect my own journey – a childhood largely on a farm 3 hours’ drive north-west of Brisbane, just over the hill from Cherbourg Aboriginal Settlement 7 on Barambah Creek, the same creek as our farm was on, on the land of the Wakka Wakka people, although it became the “receiving place” for 28 ‘tribal’ groups swept up by government policy of enforced resettlement and segregation from the European population. It was largely a closed settlement – we were not allowed in, and they were not allowed out; an absence in my awareness that continued. Over time, first nations peoples remained on the margins of my consciousness, and on the margins of our cities and towns as they gathered in the parks which were often their traditional meeting places… but which the media portrayed quite negatively.
Moving to live in 3 States has left me with something of a migrant’s sense of discontinuity, of life lived in time compartments, rather than continuity and place…. What then to make of a sense of “place” of “Country”, as a non-indigenous person…?
Fittingly, today’s Lectionary reading for the gospel in Mark 6: 14-29 is the story of the death of John the Baptist ordered by Herod, ruler of Judea – a story of the death in detention of a family member, a story of the abuse of power. I didn’t think we need to hear all the gruesome details of the story again, but it’s also too powerful to ignore …
As Uniting Church theologian Bill Loader 8 says, “The passage invites reflection on the terror of human vulnerability to corrupt regimes where decisions of enormous consequence can be influenced by fickle behaviour.”
It reminds us that the way of Sophia Wisdom is not an easy way, but still invites us, as the Common Grace website says, “to come together for the common good, discover common ground and share in common grace”.
Bill Loader notes that Mark frames his Gospel to include 3 feasts, Herod’s “Feast of Death”, its high point being John’s head being presented on a platter; followed by 2 feasts of Jesus feeding crowds – one Jewish, one Gentile; 2 “Feasts of Life” as it were.
Loader notes: “It is a terrible story, not just for its gory ending, but also for the machinations of power and the structure of injustice it displays. It is a sad irony that preachers have sometimes focussed on women’s wiles as its ‘message’. It should rather be seen as a story of exploitation – of women, of citizens and slaves; and as a story about silencing the cry for justice.”
The connection with today’s theme is unmistakable.
While there are some terrific resources for churches to celebrate NAIDOC Week, it has also been evident that, like Sophia’s Spring journey to eco-feminist theologies, first nations peoples struggle to find understandings of Christian theology which fit comfortably with their aboriginality. And they are speaking up!!
Christianity was a replacement spirituality. First nations peoples had to give up aboriginal culture and sense of identity.
“You can come into the Church, but you must leave your culture at the door”, was the message, noted Aunty Rev Dr Denise Champion, Adnyamathanha woman, theologian and Uniting Church minister, from South Australia, at her book launch Anaditj 9 this week.
“The Western church claims ownership of the Judeo-Christian story, but they … didn’t realise that there were people living here who already had the story, who had a relationship with the Creator, but in a different story.”
What relevance for us here, now? The early church in Australia was immersed in a coloniser control mindset understanding of Christianity – to what extent are we still captured by coloniser theology? Perhaps our challenge is to discover and live a Christianity which is authentically Australian, embracing truth telling and the quest for treaty; and also embracing ancient indigenous understandings of all life as sacred…
Perhaps we can see ‘Place’ and ‘Country’ as metaphors for the way we sit in the world. As Glenn Loughrey,10 indigenous Anglican Priest says – rather than separating out spirituality from everyday life, remember that that we are spiritual beings. Being spiritual is not a separate category from being alive and a part of this world (152); we are (all) spiritual because we are indigenous to the Universe (P153). He suggests we be gentle with ourselves and each other, as we grow into our understanding of ourselves as spiritual beings inhabiting a spirit filled universe…
Understanding the Universe as Country then informs our caring for Country: as created beings we stand in solidarity with Sophia, our elder – in the desert, appearing on the lake in a storm, walking country with Sophia’s mob, describing Spiritual truths as similar to mustard seeds, salt, fig trees and birds of the fields.11
This fits with our recent explorations of Matthew Fox’s creation theology of Original Blessing 12, and Brock and Parker’s work Saving Paradise 13 .
“As Brooke Prentis (CEO of Common Grace) often says in her Acknowledgements of Country, (slightly adapted for Sophia’s Spring emphasis on inclusive language) “Country is all lands, waters, sky, trees, plants, animals, birds, fish, rocks, mountains, and all peoples.” Country is all of God’s wondrous creation. It is a sense of identity, belonging, groundedness and home. We live on wounded, blood-stained country. (Sophia) understands, having shared our suffering and pain; providing hope for country to be healed, restored, loved and set free, calling us as (Sophia’s) hands and feet to take an active role in healing country by protecting and restoring “God/de’s” beautiful earth.
So, what can we do? Common Grace website extends an invitation to action – join in for healing country.
- Bring our hands, feet, mind, heart
- Bring our listening, our learning, our love
- Subscribe to Common Grace
- Sign the online petition for healing country
- Support the Reconciliation Appeal
- Watch the Treaty Video
- Listen to the voices of the world – the environment and creatures who are our cousins
- Accept our responsibilities to work for the benefit of all citizens and ‘co-citizens’ of our world and universe
- Avoid quick and romantic solutions.15
I invite you to add to this list yourself.
Steve Martin 11.7.21
5 Roach, Archie, tell me why, East Roseville, Australia: Simon and Schuster, 2020
6 Grant, Stan, Talking to my Country, Sydney, NSW: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016
8 William Loader: https://billloader.com/MkPentecost7.html
9 Champion, Aunty Rev Dr Denise, Anaditj, Denise Champion, 2021. https://www.commongrace.org.au/anaditj_book_launch, 6 July 2021.
10 Loughrey, Glenn. On Being Blackfella’s Young Fella. Bayswater: Coventry Press, 2020
11 Loughrey (P120, adapted)
12 Fox, Matthew, Original Blessing, New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2000 Edition
13 Brock, Rita Nakashima, Rebecca Ann Parker, Saving Paradise, Boston: Beacon Press, 2008;
15 Loughrey (pp120-121)