Learning locally

Sam Hearn reflects on his recent experience learning from local traditional owners about the Bunurong people and their country.

“This is where my people ate…this is where my people hunted… this is where our old people are buried.”

Late last year I was honoured (albeit with a fair streak of apprehension) to be elected as a local councillor for the Mornington Peninsula Shire – located to the southeast of Melbourne. Our community is in the homelands of the Boonwurrung/Bunurong people, who are a part of the Kulin nation. Serving our community in this way wasn’t something I planned or even considered until only a few months before the election date, but a number of factors that I and my neighbourhood church community felt God’s hand in lead me to throw my hat in the ring. The fact that I, a young grassroots youth and community worker with no campaign money and no political experience, was elected out of 15 other candidates is somewhat miraculous!

The other area of my life’s contribution is SURRENDER, a partner based organisation that is seeking to inspire Christians across Australia to follow Jesus through practising incarnational mission and justice. Aboriginal Christian leaders from right across Australia are core partners and voices in the work of SURRENDER, and they have greatly shaped my understanding of what it means for me to follow Jesus and seek His kingdom coming. In fact, we begin every SURRENDER event and activity by acknowledging the first people that God placed in this land, and by recognizing the fact that His kingdom won’t come without those first people being right at the forefront of it!

Because of this, my first priority as I sought to understand how I as a follower of Jesus could serve the place and people of my community was to seek out and be guided by Boonwurrung/Bunurong leaders within my community. At the start of this new role I wanted my understanding to be shaped by the full history and environmental and cultural significance of the Mornington Peninsula – not just the comparatively surface deep experience of those of us who’ve recently arrived in this place.

We are lucky to have in our local community a Boonwurrung/Bunurong elder and leader who is also a qualified Archaeologist. He is an absolute wealth of stories and knowledge about the history and identity of our place. I caught up with him straight after I was sworn in and asked whether he could teach me about his land and help me understand how I could best respect, serve and protect it and the people who live in it. We spent a day walking the coastlines and inland hills as he shared stories of the past and present, the lore and law of his people. I was conscious that I was walking with a descendant of people that had walked in those very places for thousands and thousands of years and that I was encountering an exponentially more developed understanding of place than the mere surface skimming viewpoint our current society holds in our day to day life. It was an incredible day! I felt my mind and perspective slowing and broadening with each step we took.

Boonwurrung/Bunurong is part of the Kulin nation. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The foundational principles that the Boonwurrung/Bunurong people hold are to obey the laws of Bunjil (the Creator) and not to harm the children or the land of Bunjil. As he spoke about the way of life of His people and the rich history and relationship they shared with their land I felt mixed emotions. I felt a deep gratitude and admiration for the heritage and presence of the first people and what I’m learning, and I also felt a real grief and sense of loss for all the ways in which the events that have taken place over recent history have broken this responsibility for the children and land of our Creator. We are very conscious of our human rights, but we have so much to learn from the first peoples about our human responsibilities to the land and to each other. We also have so much that we need to make right and find healing for in order to truly live well in this land.

Since we all live in a "place", then you too exist day to day in the midst of a homeland that is rich in history and culture. Take the opportunity and make the time to look around you, seek out the stories of the first people of your locality, and even jump in to new conversations and relationships with the Aboriginal peoples of the place you call home.

I am still at the very start of this journey, but real relationship with my Indigenous brothers and sisters from many first nations, when combined with my trust in the redemption, healing and reconciliation present in the person and message of Jesus, fill me with a great sense of hope for the future. In my own community, and in communities right across this land, if we can listen, understand, and respect the vast wealth of the oldest living culture on our earth and place great value on the first peoples amongst us that carry that culture, knowledge and identity there is great hope that the reconciliation that is a hallmark of the coming kingdom of God will spring forth and grow. May His kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven!

Take Action: Learn about your local area

Take some time today to begin learning more about the traditional owners of your local area. Seek to listen and hear from them, and where possible begin building meaningful relationships and friendships.

languages-map.jpgA good place to begin your learning is this map, which roughly outlines the known languages spoken by first nations peoples across this land and may help identify the first people of your locality. From there a quick Google search or your local council website may lead you to more information.

Then, we encourage you to share your own journey in the comments on this page, that we may all be encouraged to continue listening and learning as we work towards Reconciliation.

This post is part of a series of posts we're publishing each day throughout Reconciliation Week. If you'd like to follow along you can signup with your email or follow us on Facebook.

Sam Hearn is the Director of Surrender, a non-profit organisation that exists to raise up Australian Christians to live the radical call of Jesus and follow him to the least, the last and the lost.

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