Brooke Prentis kicks off our National Reconciliation Week campaign by shedding light on the importance of truth telling for reconciliation. #NRW19 #GroundedinTruth
Reconciliation as Truth and Action
Interview with Reverend Samuel Dinah
Reverend Samuel Dinah or Uncle Sam is a Nyoongar elder, musician and cultural teacher who spent his childhood as part of the Stolen Generations in Roelands Mission in the southwest of Western Australia.
Peregrin Osgood Campbell is the Project Officer for the Advocacy Commissions of the Anglican Diocese of Perth, working in the Social Justice, Aboriginal and Eco Justice spheres and interviewed Uncle Sam for National Reconciliation Week.
What are you up to right now, Uncle Sam?
I am currently serving God in the prisons, with prison ministry as a chaplain and as part of the Aboriginal Visitor Scheme with the Department of Justice. I haven’t run any services in the prisons for about two years, since my contract with the Uniting Church ran out about two years ago.
What truth do you want Australia to know about the Stolen Generations?
My summation of all I want to say would be based on what I call the ‘Three R’s: Recognition, Rehabilitation and Restoration.
Recognition is for all Australians, based on the principles of how we see ourselves as a nation of peoples. We need to learn about a nation of peoples who were considered by white settlers to be a hopeless race, doomed for failure. This view led to the Aborigines Act 1905 which was based on the principle of ‘breed out, die out’ policy. This view was turned about through the Christian principles of Missionaries who saw Aboriginal people as equal and created by a divine people.
The Christian view of all people created in the Image of God by the Missionaries brought about the idea of Rehabilitation. This concept helped the empowerment of our people through our art, sporting achievements and levels of education. And though it is important to reflect on the sad, painful past and the traumatic history of the Stolen Generation, we First Peoples of this land have been given the responsibility to take care of the land for others to share and to recognize the healing that comes about when we acknowledge the others who share this wonderful country with us.
Restoration is bridging the gap between First Peoples and others by sharing this beautiful God given country with others and to work together as one nation, helping everyone to be reconciled with the facts of the Stolen Generation. So that what has been done in the past will not occur again. We First Peoples need to walk in two worlds to empower our people and take our rightful place in our country. For we are one, we are many, we are Australia.
Where do you find the courage to face each day based on your lived reality of being part of the Stolen Generations?
Being part of the Stolen Generations, taken away from my family and never seeing my parents again, I was bitter. It was devastating. But, psychologically I pushed it aside, pretending that it never, ever, happened. Years later, as a teenager, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. But even when I left the Mission, I had still had this pain in my heart, not belonging to anyone or any community at large.
Then as a young man, God through his grace and wonderful love and mercy, gave me a reading of the Story of Joseph, sold into slavery and pleading as a young man with his brothers. But they did not show any mercy or pity. He was wrongly accused and placed into slavery. I identify with this story. He would have, like myself, asked the question, ‘why?’ Why did God allow this to happen? And because I accepted Jesus as my Lord and saviour, I was able find in the story the wonderful thing that lifted the burden from my shoulders: it wasn’t Joseph’s brothers who sent him into Egypt, it was God, for a reason – and so too God had sent me. My story was very similar to Joseph’s.
And God is always there, and that gives me the courage. I remember as a young boy, going to church for the first time, with the House Sister, in our bare feet and our pyjamas and we could hear his message. Our God has had his hand on me from the time that I was born. This story still gives me strength and courage every day.
When you are removed from your family, how then can you still follow Jesus?
This is beyond my understanding, but even when you are taken away from your family, God’s Grace is still there. I never realised this until I read the Joseph story and God revealed the story to me as a young man. I am not bitter any more.
So, when did you find out that God had a plan for you personally, for Uncle Sam?
God gave me a personal sign like Jeremiah: I have a plan for you. I remember my car had broken down, and I was hitchhiking one day from Pinjarra to Perth, to go to church here. An Aboriginal church. But I wasn’t picked up until late the afternoon near Karnet, and I realised I may not get home. So, I asked to be dropped off on the way and missed the service. The next day I was reading the Bible and Psalm 121 “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in, from this time on and forevermore.” I realised even in my going out and coming home, missing the church, God was watching over me. He is walking alongside me.
Is there any action you would like Christians to take in regard to the Stolen Generations?
An active response to the Three R’s of Recognition, Rehabilitation and Restoration.
What justice would you like to see for members of the Stolen Generations?
Acceptance and acknowledgment of the facts of the Stolen Generations and the effects by everyone – government, but also all people – in thought, word and deed. True acknowledgment of the facts that Aboriginal people were only recognized under the Fisheries and Fauna Act, that we were seen as unredeemable and less worthy than a dog. Popular opinion was that we did not have an immortal soul, and it was only the Missionaries who believed we had the vital, divine spark of all people, an immortal soul. That we were human and capable of salvation.
What does National Reconciliation Week mean to you?
It is a time to remember and is an opportunity to enact justice of the ‘Three R’s: Recognition, Rehabilitation and Restoration. Like God’s grace though, which is with us all the time, Reconciliation should be with us all the time, not just in the week. I do a lot, I get very busy in the prisons, during this time. Just as we need to keep listening to God’s words, we cannot do the Reconciliation in one week.
Pergrin interviewed Uncle Sam at St John’s Anglican Church in Fremantle, Western Australia. While waiting outside for Peregrin to arrive, a former prison inmate Unlce Sam had assisted, recognised him and thanked him for his help in getting his life back on track. “It happens all time”, Uncle Sam laughed when recounting the encounter, “Praise God!”.
If people would like to contact Uncle Sam to purchase his music, they can contact him on 0427 347 070.
by Bianca Manning
Bianca Manning is a Gomeroi woman and an emerging young Aboriginal Christian Leader from Newcastle. Bianca is a Social Worker, Common Grace's Communications Officer, and she is currently living in Brisbane studying at The Academy with Glory City Church. Bianca's grandmother was a member of the Stolen Generations.
We thank you for who you are and boldly come before you this Reconciliation Week, knowing that you care. Knowing that you see us and have always seen us and have been with us since the beginning. Creator God, you placed Aboriginal peoples on these lands now called Australia as your chosen custodians. We thank you for the gift of knowing you, and that we have been reconciled to you through the cross. With all of creation, we worship you.
Father, you know our pain, and the injustices that our people have faced and continue to face. Your heart breaks for the Stolen Generations, for the suffering and trauma that occurred and that continues today for our children, families and communities. Our hearts grieve what has been lost, stolen and abused, and the way this impacts every aspect of our lives today. Lord, we also acknowledge and lament the New Stolen Generation, as our children are still being removed from their families at staggering rates.
Holy Spirit, we pray that you will come and bring your comfort to all those who need it. We pray that as the truth is told and acknowledged, your healing waters will flood our hearts and this nation.
We pray that families will be restored, and that families and communities will be strengthened and supported.
We pray that compensation will be given to survivors and families of the Stolen Generations.
We ask that you guide our political leaders and raise up First Nations peoples into positions of influence and leadership.
God, please protect our children who are currently in the out of home care system. May they encounter your love and peace, and have hope for the future.
Guide all people into your heart of compassion and empower us to love with actions and in truth.
In the name Jesus, our redeemer, we pray these things.
Truth in Action
Truth starts with knowledge. What would Australia look like, sound like, act like if every person living in these lands and waters understood what “Australia” looked like before colonisation and if we had a shared understanding of the true history of 1788? What would the Australian church look like, sound like, act like, if every Christian knew about God’s appointed custodians and God’s appointed boundaries and viewed colonisation through the Creator’s eyes - the shooting and disregard of peoples made in His image, the destruction of the environment, the commencement of deforestation in Australia.
Will you take action to see how we could change the view of Australia and Australian Christians?
Put May 26 Sorry Day in your Church calendar.
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This post is part of our National Reconciliation Week 2019 series where we are together discovering Reconciliation as Truth and Action.