Recognising Australia's First Peoples
The following is a complilation of material from a variety of sources including minutes of meetings of the congregation and NewView. It is hoped that this material will further stimulate thoughs and discussion.
From the minutes of the November 2018 Meeting of the Congregation
The meeting of the congregation on November 20th discussed how we might acknowledge the first peoples who occupied the land where our church now sits. We were reminded that the preamble of the Uniting Church constitution was revised in 2009 to include reference to Australia's first peoples as follows: ‘As the Church believes God guided it into union so it believes that God is calling it to continually seek a renewal of its life as a community of First Peoples and of Second Peoples from many lands’. We were encouraged to follow the lead of the Uniting Church Assembly and find a way to locally acknowledge Australia’s first peoples.
The community in which we live is changing very rapidly and as we imagine and plan for the future, we should not forget what has gone before us; especially the people who lived in this land before us and what we might learn from them. Some members of the congregation are of the opinion that we should find a way to ensure that newcomers are made aware of our heritage leading back to Australia's first peoples.
Both Church Council and the November 2018 meeting of the congregation have expressed the view that we should not go down the path of making statements at the start of regular worship services or meetings.
Church Council consider this matter and in late 2018 advised that they feel comfortable with the following statement that might be included on a sign or plaque: ‘In the spirit of reconciliation and solidarity the congregation of Glen Waverley Uniting Church acknowledges that the land on which we gather to praise God is part of the traditional lands of the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin nation. Across this wide land we recognise the First People’s continuing connection to country, water and community, and recognise Elders past, present and emerging.’
St. Luke's Uniting Church has a plaque that states: ‘In the spirit of reconciliation, we the congregation of St Luke's Uniting Church acknowledge that the land on which our church stands is part of the traditional lands of the Wurrundjeri people. We respect the close spiritual and cultural ties of the aboriginal people to their land and commit ourselves to work for justice for indigenous people’.
The November 2018 meeting of the congregation was offered a third example of a statement that might be used: ‘In the spirit of reconciliation, we acknowledge that we are meeting on this land and have connection with this land, the land of the Wurrundjeri people of the Kulin nation. They were the custodians of this land for thousands of years. We pay our respect to their tribal elders, both past and present, for they hold the memories, the traditions and the culture of aboriginal Australia. We give thanks for their descendants who went on to maintain their spiritual connections and traditions. Together we focus on a united and unified and cohesive nation. We walk together and hope for a better future.’
The November 2018 meeting of the congregation agreed by consensus that we, as a congregation, would like to progress acknowledgement of Australia's first peoples in some way.
From the December 2018 edition of NewView
Recognition of First Peoples: One Person’s Thoughts and Feelings
The topic of the Recognition of First Peoples evokes a variety of emotions in people. Some are hurt, some feel threatened, some are angered, some are offended and others are even more supportive. I was asked to place my thoughts, my feelings, and my suggestions, in front of you, my friends, and encourage all of you to pray for guidance on what God wants us to do.
We, the Glen Waverley Uniting Church congregation, actually have a great deal in common with the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples who are identified by Monash Council as the First Peoples of the lands that include the land on which Glen Waverley Uniting Church sits.
Our congregation does not own the land and buildings on which the church complex and manses are located. We are just custodians of the facilities. From the current legal perspective, this property and its contents belong to the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust. This is a body that also exists as custodians of the resources for the Uniting Church in Australia, and on behalf of the Assembly and the Synods. We (the congregation) cannot sell this property, we cannot buy more property and we cannot make significant changes to the property without the approval and support of the other custodial ‘Owners’.
The Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples also do not believe they ‘own’ the land, but that they are custodians on behalf of their elders past, present and future. So just as they believe they must care for and use the land in a way that ensures it respects the past and is available for future generations, we also believe that we, as custodians, have a responsibility to use wisely the resources we have so that we respect our elders and members of the past, and provide resources for our elders and members of the future.
There is no conflict of interest, but a common aim.
We may debate endlessly how that is to be best recognised or achieved, but we both have the same aims. For us, the congregation, we have elders (small ‘e') that have in the past given us this custodianship, and we recognise them by the foundation stones of the property, by our history and gift books and by the minutes and records of the meetings of our congregation, where the history, knowledge and wisdom of our community reside. So in what way do I think we can better acknowledge and recognise the First Peoples of Monash as they relate to the land on which the Glen Waverley Uniting Church is located? I am aware of strong views in many directions, and so I ask that you accept the following as just another view to be considered.
I feel we can achieve this desirable outcome in a number of inclusive, truly meaningful and respectful ways:-
- We can place a plaque (another word for a foundation stone) on our property, acknowledging the Wurundjeri and Bunurong peoples past and present. My view is that this could be beside our own ‘items of recognition’. That is, beside our foundation and dedication stones, showing that we are inclusive in our view of the ownership of our location. (Our dedication plaque is at the north entrance, prominently displayed for all the community to see.)
- We can include in our History Book (that resides in the glass cabinet on the southern wall of the foyer),
- an acknowledgement of the first people’s custodianship of our area, an acknowledgement of their preexistence to the church complex, and our gratitude to their elders past, present and future that these lands are a shared resource for which we are both custodians.
- That at the meeting of our elders (small ‘e’) and our custodian leaders - which in my view is the Congregational Meeting - we acknowledge the first peoples of this land, and our gratitude for the custodial use of this land, every time we meet. And it could include a prayer of thanks to our leadership past and present.
- That at the meeting of our Elders - Church Council, with the usual opening prayers that they share, that they also acknowledge the first people elders past and present that have this shared custodianship of the land.
- That our web site includes these words on the front screen beside our own mission and purpose, and
- That we initiate this acknowledgement by a special combined worship where local representatives of the first peoples are invited to participate in the worship.
I do not support the concept that at every worship service, gathering or meeting we should include this acknowledgement to the first peoples. For half of my 44 year working life, I watched this requirement forced on every meeting and gathering of the companies and staff, and what I saw was disrespect and falsehood, by people being required to say or support a statement they did not believe, accept or correctly read in a respectful and proper manner.
Just reading words does not show respect. It is no different to people who say the Lord’s Prayer or sing the National Anthem when their minds and hearts are elsewhere!!! I believe this is disrespectful and meaningless. So for example, a sub-committee meeting of Church Council, the executive meeting of UCAF or at the Indonesian worship gathering is not the occasion for these words.
It also does not excite me that in other places of the UCA they are telling persons that they must do this, they must do that, that they must include these words in every worship (first you must please define worship before you make these meaningless statements). Wherever it is done, it must be respectful, NOT automatic and NOT prescribed behaviour, or we will have more people feeling hurt, feeling threatened, angered or offended as I said at the start.
May God give us an understanding of how we can live in an inclusive and sharing community. Amen
Another Point of View
We agree with the apparent consensus from the Congregational Meeting to have a plaque acknowledging the First Peoples. By doing so we support newcomers from all over the world to our country, city and church – we support, and acknowledge our history for future generations to be aware of their heritage.
We come to Church to renew our faith, hear from the Bible and celebrate the gifts of God with our church family but we don’t support the concept that at every worship service, gathering, or Congregational/Property/Hub/Inclusive meetings etc, we should include an acknowledgement to the First Peoples. By all means acknowledge them with placement of a suitably worded plaque.
Is the verbal acknowledgement another instance of the majority pandering to the minority for the sake of political correctness? Is it really meaningful when you attend a venue where there is a verbal acknowledgement of the First Peoples? It is highly doubtful that any descendants from the First People attend or are even aware or care about our Church or the possible placement of a plaque in the future.
Acknowledgement of First Peoples: Another View
I was excited when I heard that Glen Waverley Uniting Church was discussing how we might best formally acknowledge the First Peoples. For me this is something that we need to do, both for the First Peoples and for ourselves.
As members of the Uniting Church we are called to walk together as First and Second Peoples and it is not possible to do this if we do not acknowledge the First Peoples. The history of white arrival in this land is problematic as this arrival brought with it dispossession, violence and death for the First Peoples. As someone who was born in the 1960s I was not personally involved in these atrocities, but if I am not prepared to acknowledge that they happened then surely I am still complicit.
I believe that acknowledgment of First Peoples is the one way that can help us move forward as peoples together. But how might we do this?
Plaques are a common and good way to let everyone who uses our facilities know that we are aware of those who cared for the land before we were here. As custodians of the land the First Peoples cared for land in the same way that we might care for our worship space – working for something special that we can hand on to the next generation. A weekly acknowledgement in the bulletin or services shows that we are in solidarity with the First Peoples and that their concerns matter to us.
Some might feel this is overkill; yet it is something that appears in Uniting in Worship, I have participated in weekly acknowledgement at college and have witnessed acknowledgement in many worshipping communities. In some spaces this is done beautifully when coupled with the acknowledgement of those people of faith who have worshipped in the community in times past.
This is not an easy space to navigate and I pray that we might continue to have respectful conversations as we discern together how we might acknowledge the First Peoples of this land.
From the Canberra City Uniting Church
This plaque was unveiled by Mrs Agnes Shea, Ngunnawal elder, and Rev. Dr John Brown in the presence of the combined congregation service on Sunday, 7 December, 2003
The Canberra City Congregation is a congregation in covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Congress. As such we seek to build positive relationships, understanding and reconcilliation with local indigenous people.
We acknowledge that over the last two centuries the arrival of people from overseas has resulted in great losses for indigenous people.
In our zeal to preach the Gospel, the churches have not always treated indigenous culture with respect.
We are committed to listening to indigenous people in order to understand and respect their spirituality and culture, and to understand the history, and political, social and economic relationships in Australia from their perspective.
We pray and work for a united Australia which respects this land of ours, values the heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and provides justice and equality for all.
Recognition of Australia's First peoples in any Redevelopment of the Kingsway Precinct
Another idea is to to engage with the city of Monash to include recognition of Australia's first peoples in any redevelopment of the Kingsway precinct. If the city of Monash calls for public submissions or comments concerning redevelopment of the Kingsway precinct, perhaps a submission could be prepared by our congregation.