For many years, Pastor Ray Minniecon has been at the forefront of Christian conversations involving First Nations people and the church in Australia. As Director of Bunji Consultancies, Ray is well versed in the current political discourses around reconciliation, treaty and the Uluru Statement. He sat down with Tearfund’s Greg Hewson to discuss the restoration of relationship.
Under the Howard era, there was this view of the ‘black armband view of history’– and it still remains. It is a view that says that if you look back at the past and highlight the wrongs, then you go around wearing a ‘black armband’.
I still think that there is only one part of the story being told in this country and that is the ‘white story’. The ‘white story’ goes along these lines: “we built this country, we made it what it is today, not the Aboriginal people”. Therefore: “we have the right to do what we want with it”. Our Aboriginal people would come along and say: “hang on a sec…” It comes back to this issue of contested sovereignty. You can’t escape that.
It (the discussion) keeps being shut down. What you see is that every time we (Aboriginal People) come up with an idea in an effort to move the conversation forward, you see the oppositional powers coming to close down that narrative. If it is getting too “Aboriginal” you will get a politician stand up and say: “well, it is alright to be white”. And so you get this contest all the time.
Within all discussions about Treaty, you still have to ask the question: “What do you mean by sovereignty?” Because we would contest that if you want to acknowledge sovereignty, then you are on stolen land, and you have a problem. The Bible says: “thou shalt not steal”, but you have already stolen. Therefore, you need to return stolen goods. You have been exposed.
Now, if a church could lead that (discussion), you can almost see the domino effects of other churches saying: “hey, we too are on stolen land, what are we going to do about it?” If that took place, I think you would see a shift in government policy. Because the church, the institutional church, is one of the most powerful institutions in this country.
My hope is that people would show mercy. Or, that we would see mercy enter into this country. I've never seen it enter into this country. That would be a completely different narrative.
More and more, I’m convinced that hope is not the right word for our people now. There is always hope there, it is just part of the human makeup – although it can be crushed, and I’ve seen that as well. The thing that I’m thinking about more recently is mercy, instead of hope and justice. It’s the other part of that Micah challenge (Micah 6:8). We talk about justice, but what is mercy? That’s what Micah is saying: justice, mercy and walking in humility. Because we (First Nations peoples) are crushed. We can’t get up, we are under the foot all the time. Every time we get up to do something, in the name of justice we are getting slammed, so why can’t we talk about mercy? Why can’t we ask people to show mercy? Would that be okay?
My hope is that people would show mercy. Or, that we would see mercy enter into this country. I’ve never seen it enter into this country. That would be a completely different narrative.
Keep informed about issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Tearfund's work with the First Peoples of Australia. Together, let’s deepen our understanding and prayerfully consider how we can engage in the work of reconciliation and healing to which God calls us.