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Mourning colonisation

As we approached “Australia Day” in 2019, the Uniting Church in Australia was encouraged by its national governing body, the Uniting Church Assembly, to add to its life a Day of Mourning. This was to be held on the Sunday before “Australia Day”, so that we would never simply celebrate the arrival of those who took over this country from its Indigenous people without any negotiation or respect.

We non-Indigenous people may well love this country in which we live, but to celebrate this each year without acknowledging how we arrived here, and what we did to its owners, is to make that day disrespectful and dishonest.

Stuart McMillan, a senior national staff person in the Uniting Church, has given us a summary of what happened to change things and how we have responded.

“On the Sunday before Australia Day, Uniting Church congregations across the country hold worship services to reflect upon and lament the effect of the invasion and colonisation of this nation upon her First Peoples.

“The observance of a Day of Mourning was endorsed by the 15th Assembly at the request of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC). Rather than seeking a change to the date of Australia Day as some propose, the UAICC asked the church, in the spirit of the Covenant between us, to declare the Sunday before Australia Day as a Day of Mourning. Assembly members enthusiastically agreed.

“Sunday January 19 will be marked by the Uniting Church as the Day of Mourning for 2020. Local congregations are encouraged to honour First Peoples on this day. The Assembly wants to encourage congregations, agencies and schools to make local connections with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress and/or with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples of their area.

“The Day of Mourning is not a new concept in Australia. The first such day was held on Australia Day in 1938, organised by the Aborigines Progressive Association in New South Wales. with support from the Australian Aborigines League in Victoria to coincide with sesquicentenary celebrations.

“The Uniting Church acknowledges in its constitution (nationally in 2009 and formalised by State Synods in 2011) the dispossession, violence and decimation of First Peoples and laments the fact that, as a church and as Second Peoples, we were, and remain, complicit.

“Our decision to declare a Day of Mourning annually from 2019, is a way in which we stand together in Covenantal relationships to honour, remember and acknowledge the truth of our history. For it is only through our lament and truth telling that we together, First and Second Peoples, look with hope to the future.”

Stuart McMillan prays that “one day, the whole nation may, in a coming of age, fully accept this history and take a significant step towards healing for our nation”.

To begin by mourning our history together, is an honest and creative way of changing our future. People of faith can lead the way, but this mourning really belongs to us all as we assume responsibility for our past and present as a nation.

One of the beautiful things about the nature of faith in parts of the Indigenous community is its God, “The Wanjina”. Images of this God indicate that the very special feature of it is that it has no mouth for judgement. Obviously, it is a loving, understanding, forgiving and kind God.

If the First and Second Peoples of our land could move into deeper, just, and more respectful relationships with each other, maybe we could learn many things together.

Let us commit ourselves, as we enter 2020 as a community, to develop new and deeper relationships.

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