12th Assembly 2009

Watershed period in Indigenous affairs

“There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future. Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.

“The past three years are likely to be judged by history as a watershed time for the Aboriginal and Islander people of Australia.” These challenging words open the triennial report of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress to the 12th Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia.

The report highlighted several significant developments in the previous three years, including:

  • Recognition of the harsh realities of life for many young Indigenous Australians through the release of the Little Children are Sacred report,
    The 2007 “Intervention” in the Northern Territory by the Howard Government,
    The 2008 formal apology in federal Parliament to Indigenous Australians by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and
    Acceptance of the urgency for governments to “close the gaps” between the non-Indigenous and Indigenous people.

The report claims all those have ramifications for Congress’ life and ministry, both positive and negative.

During the past triennium, the Assembly Standing Committee established a task group to progress the renewal of the covenant relationship between the Congress and the Uniting Church Assembly. The group comprised three people from the mainstream Uniting Church and four from Congress.

This group sought to provide a context in which the covenant partners could “discuss experiences and issues that cause encouragement and concern over the operation of the covenant relationship across the church”. It also considered ways in which commitment to the covenant could be strengthened.

The Congress report emphasised the vital importance of the proposed Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church in Australia, a matter for later business at the Assembly.

“This proposed Preamble is particularly important because it takes the Uniting Church Covenant — between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members — to another level; to beyond just having ‘truth’ in history and Indigenous claims for justice and a fair deal addressed … It poses challenging questions such as:

  • “What was God’s purpose in preparing and speaking to the ‘first people of our nation over such a long period of time’?
  • “What cultural and spiritual insights can Indigenous Christians potentially bring to today’s Australian churches from their long history and a theology contained in their ‘Dreaming’?
    “What would it mean for an Australian church to recognise these Australian spiritual roots as part of God’s revelation and gift for this nation today?”

The full report is available at http://assembly2009.uca.org.au/images/Reports/uaicc.pdf.

View the photo gallery http://assembly2009.uca.org.au/resources/photo-galleries/94-congressreport