‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself... and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.’ (2 Corinthians 5:19)
In seeking reconciliation in this land, First and Second Peoples have committed to walking in a Covenantal relationship to share in the struggle for a more just and equitable society, bound together by a common faith.
The recent expression of the Church’s commitment to honour this relationship was the consensus resolution of the 15th UCA Assembly to affirm that First Peoples of Australia are sovereign Peoples in this land. The UCA now understands First Peoples’ sovereignty to be “a spiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and the First Peoples.”
The resolution reads:
18.09 Recognition of First Peoples as Sovereign
In the light of:
(a) the Preamble to the Constitution of the Uniting Church which defines sovereignty to be the way in which First Peoples understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians; and
(b) the Statement from the Heart’s acknowledgment that sovereignty is a spiritual notion, reflecting the ancestral tie between the land and First Peoples;
to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.
This was a landmark moment in the long journey between First and Second Peoples walking together in the church. In continuing this journey and guided by the leadership of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, the UCA at the 15th Assembly offered ‘moral leadership’ to the nation in affirming First Peoples’ Sovereignty.
Sovereignty Task Group
The Assembly Standing Committee established a Sovereignty Affirmation Task Group whose work is reflected in the following Terms of Reference:
- Research the arrangements in place between the Assembly and National UAICC, Synods and Regional Councils with respect to practical implications of the affirmation including concepts of redistributive justice.
And as a result, make recommendations for any changes to regulations, policies or guidelines which may be required.
- Investigate how this affirmation might shape training for ministry and lay education within the UCA, identifying what is already in place.
- Consider what might be required for Congregations, Presbyteries, Agencies and Schools to respond to this affirmation in their contexts.
- Consider what foci, in response to the affirmation, the UCA should have in respect to advocacy with Federal and State Governments.
The Uniting Church Vision for a Just Australia provides the principals for this advocacy.
The first of seven foundations in the vision statement is:
A First Peoples Heart - Our Vision:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, nurtured and sustained by God before colonisation, are celebrated at the very heart of what it means to be Australian.
First Peoples’ sovereignty is affirmed, First Peoples have a voice in the decision making
of our country and are living out their right to self-determination.
As First and Second Peoples, we walk together, creating socially just and culturally safe relationships, listening and learning from one another.
This document then sets out specific justice concerns of First Peoples. READ MORE
Uniting First Peoples Voice:
One exciting and important initiatives in living out this commitment has been to gather First Nations leaders from the agencies and UAICC. At this historic gathering, relationships were built, shared possibilities identified and a working group was established. Meeting in Canberra, the leaders took the opportunity to meet with the Indigenous Affairs Minister and other First Nations Federal politicians.
Establishing a First Peoples Voice within the Uniting Church is a practical outworking of the Sovereignty affirmation and again offers moral leadership to the nation.