12th Assembly 2009

Women of Congress speak

Youth, family and spiritual life are the biggest areas of concern for Indigenous women, according to several members of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

lurleenblackmanLurleen Blackman, from Townsville, said racism and alcoholism are issues for her community but the safety and education of young people were the most pressing concerns for Indigenous women.

Addressing this concern is a focus for Congress in her region through particular attention to education. Ms Blackman sits on the board of the Congress Community Development Education Unit, which is responsible for the delivery of education, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit, an aged-care facility and a publishing and construction company.

The prayers of non-Indigenous women in support of this work are especially welcome. Ms Blackman, who is also the National Women’s Coordinator for Congress, said one of the main things that came out of the National Women’s Conference was a call for the establishment of a national prayer network of Christian women.

“We’re looking for prayer warriors for our people,” she said.

She urged non-Indigenous Christian women to keep an eye on Congress news. “Don’t just listen to what’s on the news. What’s actually happening is not always on the news.”

Recently elected Vice-National Chairperson of the UAICC Roberta Stanley, from Cairns, is the first woman to hold the title.robertastanely

Ms Stanley said that Indigenous and non-Indigenous women “have always been there”.
“You look at where the Lord walked and women were there. I look at leadership as a servant role.”
In her view what Indigenous women need most is recognition.
“Our grandmothers and mothers were the backbone of the family,” she said.
And their greatest concern? 
“Their families — they want to see that their children have a decent education and a comfortable life.”
Ms Stanley sees the relationship of women in the church as easy and organic.
“Black or white you sit with women and put a cup of tea in front of us and we’ll chat about anything. I don’t see any barriers between Indigenous and non-Indigenous women.”

Pearl Wymarra, originally from Thursday Island and now a resident of Penrith in Sydney, is the Development and Outreach Officer for the UAICC in New South Wales with the responsibility of establishing faith communities in her area.

pearlwymarraWhile she acknowledged concern for all the issues people hear about in relation to Aboriginal communities, including health and education, Ms Wymarra sees spiritual life as the biggest issue Indigenous people face.
“In our faith communities one of the things we’re trying to put out there is come back to God, find your pathway back to God, get healing inside and the other things will fall into place,” she said.
“What I’m saying to people is heal within your own family first. Bring your family back to God and then the families can contribute to the community.”
Ms Wymarra reported that the Indigenous women in her region are well connected to, and supported by, non-Indigenous women.
“There’s a strong network of non-Indigenous women that have come along side us and who are encouraging us.”
The sharing of personal stories and pain among women in order to peel back layers and find the pathway back to God is, in her opinion, vital.
“I believe storytelling is a powerful healing tool,” she said.
“To further develop our work together we need to develop relationships. I’m passionate about that.”