In his final national message, the 14th President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan urged Church members to address the “unfinished business” of sovereignty and treaty for First Peoples.
“I started my Presidency with the Yolŋu words Bala limurr roŋyirr ŋorraŋgitjlil – ‘Let us return to the white ashes of the fire’. It was a call to reflect on the way all the people of God, First and Second Peoples have been sustained by the Holy Spirit in their own way.”
He continues to invite members to consider what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign and what it means to “stand with them in their pursuit of just terms treaties”.
A proposal to the 15th Assembly in July 2018 will ask the Uniting Church to affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.
“I pray that the Holy Spirit will rekindle the embers of the work done by both First and Second Peoples over the last three years so that we can together strive to achieve a more just Church and nation.”
Proposal 29: Recognition of Sovereignty
That the Assembly resolve: To affirm that the First Peoples of Australia, the Aboriginal and Islander Peoples, are sovereign peoples in this land.
Proposer: Stuart McMillan/Seconder: Colleen Geyer
We stand with First Peoples of this land by virtue of the Covenant we hold together.
The Preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution (paragraph 2) acknowledges that:
“Through this land God has nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples, who continue to understand themselves to be the traditional owners and custodians (meaning ‘sovereign’ in the languages of the First Peoples) of these lands and waters since time immemorial.”
In the Covenant Statement of 1994 the Uniting Church says:
“We lament our people took your land from you as if it were land belonging to nobody.”
The 14th Assembly repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples.
At the 14th Assembly we agreed to spend the next triennium in conversation considering what it would mean for the practices of the Church to honour First Peoples as sovereign. First Peoples have never ceded their sovereignty which is of the Creator and springs from the very soil of this land.
The Covenant Statements, the Preamble to the Constitution and various apologies and statements the Uniting Church has made to the First Peoples leave one matter unsaid, the acknowledgment and affirmation that First Peoples are sovereign.
This proposal is important to us because everything that has been done over the past 41 years point to this, even in the preamble UAICC speak of themselves as sovereign. The Uniting Church has never affirmed First Peoples as sovereign. All that we do in our covenant walk together is underpinned by, and flows from, this fundamental truth. In this, in resolving that First Peoples are sovereign, the 15th Assembly gives moral leadership to our nation.
If you are interested there is a lot of information about the Assembly, including reports and proposals that can be accessed here. On the website there are also ways you can keep up with what is happening at Assembly and ways you can be involved even though you will not be attending. Please pray for the Assembly and those attending as they discern God’s leading on many proposals and action of the Uniting Church nationally.
That the Assembly resolve:
In the light of:
- a) the Preamble to the Constitution of UCA 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 aspiritual 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.