Today begins NAIDOC Week, when those of us who live on the land we now call Australia join together to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
1. ‘NAIDOC Week’ – the name
The acronym NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its roots extend back to the 1920s and 1930s, with First Nations leaders protesting Australia Day and its colonial links with A Day of Mourning (learn more about those involved here). This became an annual event during the 1940s and 1950s. In the 1990s, this expanded to include Torres Strait Islanders and became a whole week of celebrations, not just one day, leading to the NAIDOC Week name change.
2. NAIDOC 2019’s theme: ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’
Every year, NAIDOC Week celebrations are given a key theme. For 2019, the theme is ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ – a challenging topic for all Australians.
‘Voice’, ‘Treaty’ and ‘Truth’ are three key elements of reform that were called for in the 2017 ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart‘, so Eternity spoke to Uncle Ray Minniecon, a respected Aboriginal leader and Anglican minister, to find out what Christians need to know about NAIDOC’s theme this year.
The Uluru statement called for “a First Nations voice to Parliament”, established as part of the Australian Constitution. More broadly, it refers to the need for all Australians to truly listen to the voice of the country’s First Nations Peoples.
As the official NAIDOC website says, “The Indigenous voice of this country is over 65,000-plus years old. They are the first words spoken on this continent. Languages that passed down lore, culture and knowledge for over millennia. They are precious to our nation. It’s that Indigenous voice that includes know-how, practices, skills and innovations – found in a wide variety of contexts, such as agricultural, scientific, technical, ecological and medicinal fields, as well as biodiversity-related knowledge. They are words connecting us to country, an understanding of country and of a people who are the oldest continuing culture on the planet.”
Uncle Ray told Eternity that, since colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have never had their voice listened to in Australia. Even now, he said, there’s only an official advisory panel to the Prime Minister whose recommendations can be, and has been, ignored.
This theme also ties in with the international theme for 2019 set by the United Nations – The International Year of Indigenous Languages.
The NAIDOC Week website says:
“Our sovereignty has never been ceded – not in 1788, not in 1967, not with the Native Title Act, not with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It coexists with the sovereignty of the Crown and should never be extinguished.
Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities. A substantive treaty has always been the primary aspiration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander movement.”
Uncle Ray pointed out that Australia has treaties with other nations, and even between its own states and territories, that help it to function and make progress. Yet Australia still does not have a treaty with its own original people – which is a big deal considering that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples never ceded their sovereignty to British colonists.
From Uncle Ray’s perspective, Christians should understand the importance of a treaty especially well – even if they are more familiar with the concept being described as “covenant”. He also highlighted Jesus’ dying words on the cross – “It is finished” – as the ultimate example of the statement of treaty. But he emphasised that any formation of treaty can only happen when there is a foundation of truth.
NAIDOC’s website says, “Critically, treaties are inseparable from Truth. Lasting and effective agreement cannot be achieved unless we have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand. The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged.
But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides. And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it. Then we can move forward together.”
Uncle Ray agrees and pointed out that the Bible’s teaching is that only truth will set us free. He believes the only way this nation can move forward is by telling the truth about its past – including the atrocities – and repenting of the sins of those who came before us.
Again, truth-telling was a key recommendation in the Uluru Statement, which called for a truth-telling process called a “Makarrata Commission”.
“Makarrata is a word from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong, and it seeks to make things right,” explains the NAIDOC website.
Uncle Ray encourages churches to contact their local Aboriginal Land Council, to learn the truth about the land they are built upon, and seek a treaty with local First Nations Peoples, saying, “Churches are also here illegally. We [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples] never ceded the land or sovereignty… The Bible is very clear that “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not kill”. And Jesus gave us the fundamentals of how we should love our neighbours, so Christians need to face the truth of this country’s history”.