Like most Aboriginal people, I find myself in between two worlds. Belonging to the world’s oldest living culture, and a western culture termed “Australian”.
At the moment, that sense is even more profound. As a nation, we are in between Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC week. We are also celebrating the Mabo decision 25 years ago that paved the way for native title, and overturned the lie our country had lived of Terra Nullius (land belonging to no one). But now we are hearing the Government arguing for the watering down of Native Title Laws. We also find ourselves in between being encouraged by 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders gathering at Uluru, and then discouraged by politicians ignoring the Uluru statement, saying the Australian public ‘needs something they can agree to’.
The two worlds can make you sick, but most often it makes you tired.
Over 2,000 generations of my peoples, my family, have walked this land. ‘Australia’ wasn’t our word. We had over 300 nations in this “nation” that has only been called Australia since 1901. Aboriginal wasn’t our word. My family comes from Waka Waka land. I live on Gubbi Gubbi land. I work on Turrabal land. I find it hard to call myself Australian, because so often Australia does not include me.
Recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on the ABC, “(Australians), we’re defined by a commitment to a common set of political values and they are… freedom, equality, mutual respect, the rule of law, democracy, a fair go - that’s our Australian values.” If so, then why are Aboriginal people treated as they are? As author Frank Hardy once said, “If this is The Lucky Country, the Aborigines must be the unluckiest people in the world.”
I dream of the day we can build an Australia built on truth, justice, love, and hope. These are what I will spend my life trying to build. As a Christian, truth, justice, love, and hope spring from our Biblical mandate to love; and as an Aboriginal person, from the role given to us by the Creator. We have been speaking of this Creator for over 60,000 years, passed down from generation to generation.
Country means the land, the seas, the rivers. Country means the trees, the plants, the animals. It means us. For over 250 years we have been trying to teach you about the country that the Creator taught us about. As Uncle Graeme Mundine says, “Genesis 1 is the greatest Aboriginal dreaming story ever told”.
I don’t want to be stuck between two worlds. For me this is part of what Reconciliation should be about. Imagine that to engage with Australia means that your world engaged with the Australia I talk about. Where animals that face extinction are valued and protected just as much as a person’s life. Where Aboriginal sacred sites are protected instead of being bulldozed. The Australia where God’s creation is valued above profits, as we mine minerals that do not replenish. The Australia that values my life as an Aboriginal person and takes action to close the gap.
Imagine that we were a nation that prayed about these things. That loved more than destroyed, and listened more than ignored. A nation where non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal peoples were friends, and shared about how to love this land and all life within it just as our Creator, God, does.
My prayer is that instead of being stuck in the middle we choose Jesus’ world – to love, to listen, to share. At Common Grace, we like to give people the tools to take next steps. One tiny step to engage with the world I am talking about is to do an Acknowledgement of Country. In its simplest form, it’s what I’ve done here – acknowledge which land I come from, on which I live, and on which I work. I’ve also acknowledged those who have gone before me and those to come – the Elders past, present and future.
Will you take this first step? Will you ask your friend, pastor, church to take this first step too?
Brooke Prentis is Common Grace's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Team's Spokesperson. She is a descendant of the Waka Waka people, an activist for indigenous rights, a Christian pastor, and an accountant. This post was originally written for the Churches of Christ in WA and published in their On Mission Journal.