Aunty Denise Champion launches 'Anaditj' – a book about 'the way things are'
“As Aboriginal peoples we hold knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, that not only our own, but all peoples, need to learn from – language for God, wisdom for God’s people, and challenge for the way ahead. For the church to be complete, our voices must be heard.”
The NAIDOC Week 2020 theme, ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’, provided the inspiration for the title of Aunty Denise’s new book. The Adnyamathanha word anaditj means ‘the way things are’. It speaks to a continuity with her ancestors, with what they have passed down, and what she now passes on through her books.
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“Anaditj is a state of being. ‘Always was, always will be’. We go back in time and recognise and acknowledge the past as we walk into the future. You have to know who you are and where you come from to walk confidently into the future,” Aunty Denise writes.
Aunty Denise is a gifted storyteller who, in Prentis’ words, “invites us into a bigger story, an ancient story, a new story, a story for yesterday, today and tomorrow”.
She weaves the old Adnyamathanha stories — like that of Awi-irtanha, the robin red breast, and of Aramburra and Artapudapuda, the trapdoor spider and the grub — together with the Gospel stories. In this way, this old wisdom can become new wisdom, bringing new insights and new perspectives.
“In our old stories we hear the echoes of the Christ, this one who came and died.” – Aunty Denise Champion
Aunty Denise speaks of the ‘echoes of familiarity’: “We have that knowledge of God, of Creator, in those old old stories, God revealed Godself through our stories, ceremonies, and songs. When we hear the Christian story, we hear the echo, and the echoes go both ways. In our old stories we hear the echoes of the Christ, this one who came and died.”
These echoes remind us that God did not come to these lands on the Endeavour just 250 years ago—indeed, Creator was already here in creation.
Aunty Denise wrote Anaditj because, for so long, Aboriginal peoples have been denied their cultures and their languages in the churches. For the Adnyamathanha people, as for many Aboriginal peoples, Christianity was forced upon them in the beginning.
“Aboriginal people are masters of change, because we’ve had to accept a lot of change in the 200 years that we’ve lived under colonisation and through assimilation. The very reason we were denied our culture was because in order to be Christian we had to become civilised, and civilised meant that we had to become like white people.”
The United Aboriginal Mission, which was charged with the spiritual development of the Adnyamathanha people, sadly said: “You can come into church, but you must leave your culture at the door.”
In Anaditj, Aunty Denise notes that people feel very uncomfortable when Aboriginal peoples start to theologise. At her book launch this week, she suggested it is because the Western Church has claimed ownership over the Gospel story, even though it isn’t only theirs.
“When these people first came here to Australia, they came thinking that they were the ones that knew the story, and it had to be told in a certain way. They didn’t realise that there were people already living here who already had the story, and who had a relationship with Creator,” she said.
“… There was always this thinking that they knew what was best for us.” – Aunty Denise Champion
Aunty Denise believes our discomfort arises because, although the Christian story is the same, it’s also different.
“It has only been a short while that Aboriginal peoples have been allowed to think for ourselves and to have self-determination over our own lives, and there was always this thinking that they knew what was best for us,” she said.
Aunty Denise finished by suggesting that Australian Christians stand at a crossroads. For the Indigenous Church, this is because it has inherited the Western model of Church, but it doesn’t fit due to the context and culture not being the same. “We need to be doing something different. It’s something new, but it’s actually our old ways, our old wisdom that we have to bring back.”
For the non-Indigenous church, she issues a challenge to listen deeply. Anaditj is a call to all of us — Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike — to “hear the echoes of the ancient wisdom of Creator through stories of the First Peoples of these lands now called Australia,” Aunty Denise said.
Her final exhortation was for us to heed the prophet Jeremiah:
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.’” (Jeremiah 6:16 NIV)