Catholic Bishops' Conference Endorses Uluru Statement from the Heart
At their November meeting last year, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart. While not all First Nations peoples support this statement, the Bishops relied on the advice and encouragement of key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander advisors and on the words of Pope John Paul II when he spoke at Alice Springs.
The decision to endorse the Uluru Statement from the Heart means that this statement now contributes to and helps guide our Catholic interactions with First Nations peoples and their aspirations.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites us all to walk with First Nations peoples as they seek a better future for Australia. At the heart of this better future is a desire for greater justice shaped by the three steps they seek to achieve. The statement calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice to Parliament that is enshrined in the Australian Constitution and it calls for a commission to oversee a two-fold process of agreement-making and truth-telling about the history of this country.
They draw on a Yolngu word ‘Makarrata’ as the name of this commission as the term Makarrata contains amongst its meanings ‘things are all right again after a conflict’ and a ‘coming together after a struggle’.
The process that led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart began with a meeting of First Nations leaders with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten in July 2015. In response, these two politicians established the ‘Referendum Council’ which then facilitated thirteen regional dialogues all around Australia. The final report of the Referendum Council endorsed The Uluru Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth. Sadly the Turnbull Government was not willing to accept the call for a Voice to Parliament.
Many may wonder what is the basis for these First Nations claims and aspirations and why this is a concern for our Catholic Bishops.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is just one attempt amidst a long history of First Nations peoples seeking to have their voice heard and aspirations met. First Nations lawyer, Megan Davis, along with Professor George Williams, offer a timeline of First Nations appeals and petitions for autonomy, representation in Parliament and even a separate Aboriginal state (see ‘Everything you need to know about the Uluru Statement from the Heart’, UNSW Press, 2021). At the heart of these aspirations was, and is, the desire of First Nations peoples to make their own decisions and to determine their own future.
For over 60,000 years in this land, First Nations peoples have had sophisticated governance and legal systems based on culture, spirituality and millennia living on country.
They never ceded sovereignty and since the imposition of British claims their aspirations for self-determination have endured. The delegates that formulated the call for Voice, Treaty and Truth need to be seen within this history.
Historian, Henry Reynolds, names that most Australians were not told of the history of British and Australian interactions with First Nations peoples. He wrote ‘Why weren’t we told?: A personal search for the truth about our history’ (Penguin, 1999) as a way of sharing his journey to learn and make sense of the history of this land. He realised that he has not been taught anything about the conflicts, massacres and dispossessions of First Nations peoples.
This history is one of injustice and therefore it is a concern of our Church and our Catholic Bishops. Each proposed remedy to the unjust history always needs careful reflection by people of faith and brought into dialogue with Scripture and our Catholic tradition.
In the media release from the Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop Macbeth-Green admitted that ‘Sadly, we within the Church have not always lived up to our Gospel calling in our engagement with our Indigenous brothers and sisters’ and that the ‘endorsement of the Uluru Statement is another step in our journey of addressing those shortcomings’ (see mediablog.catholic.org.au/bishops-endorse-uluru-statement-from-the-heart).
For us, the most important part of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is the invitation to share the journey with First Nations peoples seeking greater justice. We are asked to take seriously this invitation and to respond to it with an open heart. We are invited to be allies of First Nations peoples for a better future for all of Australia.
The Social Justice Commission office has the permission to print posters of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. If you would like a copy to hang in a parish or school space please email David at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr David Tutty
Executive Officer Social Justice Commission Toowoomba Catholic Diocese
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