By Andrew Humphries
As National Reconciliation Week begins, Tasmania’s Leprena Centre manager, Alison Overeem, is urging Australia’s Second Peoples to continue on the journey with our First Peoples towards a mutual understanding.
“When we gather, we gather with a takila (heart) for each other’s narratives, not just on the surface but digging deep into the many layers of stories, that connect us to our own narrative, and to each other’s,” she says.
“When we listen with open hearts, the open hearts we are called to, we learn and we unlearn, we connect and we reconnect, through a lens of shared respect and shared narratives. May we hold the history, knowledge, wisdom and resilience of First Peoples, as we live out our mission and ministry, and may the yarns be held, heard and continuous, like a woven basket which is strong in all its threads.”
In a recent Zoom conversation with UC ministers and members called “Sharing our narratives”, Alison said there was much work still to be done to bring First and Second Peoples together, work that she has been heavily involved with through the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress.
“I have found in the UC a place where justice can be held and heard, but I think we’ve still got a long way to go,” she says.
“Certainly the relationship between the UC in Tasmania and Aboriginal people has grown over the last few years, and the more we, as an Aboriginal community, engage and invite people into the space and share that through a non-colonised and non-Western lens, the more that engagement (for Second Peoples) with Aboriginal people will be increased.”
Moderator Denise Liersch says National Reconciliation Week is about “First and Second Peoples coming together, coming to understand each other and learn about each other”.
“When we think of reconciliation, we might think of past harm and hurt that have caused division that needs healing, so things can be set right and people can be brought together in good relationships,” she says.
“(National Reconciliation Week) is about finding ways that the truth of our shared histories can be acknowledged, so we can find new ways together. It’s about being honest with each other, speaking the truth about harms of the past and of the present, and what is needed to set the relationships onto a solid footing.”
Earlier this year, the Synod released a Covenanting Guide as a resource to help First and Second Peoples walk together.
The introduction says in part: “The key aspects of this journey are reflected in deep listening, creating and broadening of relationships between First and Second Peoples, taking responsibility for justice and truth telling, and of ensuring that the voices of First Peoples are heard and respected within the leadership of the Church and its Councils.”
Denise says the Covenanting Guide is an important step on the journey towards reconciliation between First and Second Peoples.
“It invites us to open our hearts and minds to each other, to learn the stories of the First Peoples in the area where we live and work and to get to know each other through listening to stories, including the painful stories, as well as the stories of courage and strength and connection to family, culture and land,” she says.
“It invites us to keep on that journey, wherever we’re at on that journey. After all, relationships are a living thing that need ongoing attention, and are a gift to be celebrated, that make us all the richer.”
Alison says covenanting is a necessity on the path towards a better understanding between First and Second Peoples.
“Covenanting is not something that we might do, it is something that we, as a Uniting Church, have committed to do,” she says.
And part of that commitment is the simple act of listening on the part of Second Peoples.
“Aboriginal people have many voices and it’s about taking a step back and saying, ‘who is my First Nations mob here, what is their story, and becoming immersed in that,” Alison says.
“It’s all about throwing the doors open (to a conversation) and saying that everyone is welcome. We’ve got some big events coming up in terms of Reconciliation Week, Mabo Day, NAIDOC Week and National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day and, if I can give some practical advice, it’s let’s start the conversation there.”
With a theme of “More than a word, reconciliation takes action”, this year’s Reconciliation Week runs until June 3.
To watch a recording of the “Sharing our narratives” conversation, click here and use the code 3&C*4N#@.