Yesterday was Mabo Day, 3rd June, the end of National Reconciliation Week 2018. Let’s just pause to think about that for a moment. National Reconciliation Week. Do you think Australia treated this as a national week?  How many mainstream news articles did you read about National Reconciliation Week?  How much closer do you think we got to Reconciliation this week?  Did your church acknowledge National Reconciliation Week?  How did you participate in National Reconciliation Week?

National Reconciliation Week 2018’s theme is “Don’t Keep History a Mystery – Learn, Share, Grow". An important theme. Australians know so little about the history of this land. I’m not talking about 230 to 248 years ago but from 65,000 years ago to present day.  I’ve recently been asking people, as I ask you now, these three questions:

Aboriginal flag1

PICTURE: Melbourne Streets Avant-garde (licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

"National Reconciliation Week is an opportunity to ask yourself what you need to learn, to change, and to do, to take your place in bringing about reconciliation in Australia. Reconciliation is important, but it can’t just be important to Aboriginal peoples – we can’t do reconciliation on our own."

1. Can you name three Aboriginal nations/people groups?
2. When is Reconciliation Week?
3. What is this year’s NAIDOC Week theme?

Many Christians cannot score 100 per cent. For me, these are the easy questions, the basics. 

I’ve asked a lot of questions already in this article, but, for me, National Reconciliation Week is actually about asking questions. National Reconciliation Week sits between our Day of Mourning on January 26th – a time to mourn together about the true history of Australia, and where Aunty Jean Phillips, and I with the support of Common Grace, hold services of prayer and lament in every capital city in the week and a half before 26th January, and between NAIDOC Week, which runs from 8th to 15th July – a time to celebrate our community and our ancient cultures with the rest of Australia.  As National Reconciliation Week sits “in between”, it is there for us to not just ask the easy questions but also ask the hard questions, the questions that reveal the answers so we don’t keep history a mystery. 

Questions and answers create conversation – we need more conversation. How many conversations have you had with an Aboriginal person this year? If you had a conversation with me this Reconciliation Week, you would have heard I would rather call it 'Reconciliation friendship'. My hope is that you want to be friends with Aboriginal people – that means yarning with us, having dinner with us, marching the streets with us. Being friends with us means you will learn more perhaps by watching the SBS series First Australians and through Christian networks that embrace leadership of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leaders like The Grasstree Gathering (@grasstreegathering), Common Grace (@CommonGraceAus) and Surrender (@SURRENDERAUS). It means you will ask others questions and you will be telling others about how Australia’s history still affects the present. This was reflected in the “Learn, Share, Grow” part of this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme. National Reconciliation Week is an opportunity to ask yourself what you need to learn, to change, and to do, to take your place in bringing about reconciliation in Australia.

Reconciliation is important, but it can’t just be important to Aboriginal peoples – we can’t do reconciliation on our own. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christian Leader, Safina Stewart, recently said, “We need you. But more importantly, we want you.”

This year I’ve shared a message of reconciliation as friendship, a message I’ve been sharing since 2012. Some see reconciliation as having been politicised, so often in our country reconciliation has become just a word. But it is so much more than that. Reconciliation is a journey, and an action – it affects real peoples’ lives. 

I would rather call reconciliation friendship – it is through friendship that we get to know one another, that we desire to learn, share, and grow, and I believe through friendship we could 'Close The Gap' a lot quicker.

"We have not achieved reconciliation, we are the only Commonwealth nation and one of the last liberal democracies without a treaty and or treaties with Aboriginal peoples and nations, 58 per cent of Aboriginal peoples live in poverty in Australia, we suffer high rates of prison incarceration, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are 24 times more likely to be in juvenile detention, Australia has the highest rate of child suicide in the world, one in six Aboriginal people will die from diabetes this year, and one in three Aboriginal peoples will experience racism this week. This is why reconciliation matters. This is why we need you."

Reconciliation as friendship is ultimately about love. Let us remind ourselves as we walk together into the 23rd year of National Reconciliation Week that Australia is an old world, cared for for over 65,000 years by over 2,000 generations of Aboriginal peoples from over 300 nations. However, in 2018, Australia is broken, in a mess, in chaos. We have not achieved reconciliation, we are the only Commonwealth nation and one of the last liberal democracies without a treaty and or treaties with Aboriginal peoples and nations, 58 per cent of Aboriginal peoples live in poverty in Australia, we suffer high rates of prison incarceration, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are 24 times more likely to be in juvenile detention, Australia has the highest rate of child suicide in the world, one in six Aboriginal people will die from diabetes this year, and one in three Aboriginal peoples will experience racism this week. This is why reconciliation matters. This is why we need you.   

We must remember that reconciliation is an action and that it involves truth and justice.  

We were reminded recently by Bishop Michael Curry of the late Dr Martin Luther King, Jr’s, words, "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way." Bishop Michael Curry went on in his own words, “There's power in love. Don't underestimate it. Don't even over-sentimentalise it. There's power, power in love. I'm talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.”

Love is the only way to change a broken Australia. Let us work together in reconciliation as friendship to make this old world now called Australia a new world – an Australia built on truth, justice, love, and hope. Aboriginal peoples lives, and the spirits of all who call Australia home, depend on it...for love is the only way.

Brooke Prentis is an Aboriginal Christian leader who is a descendant of the Waka Waka peoples. She is the Aboriginal spokesperson for Common Grace and the coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering. She is a chartered accountant, a community pastor, speaker, and writer.