Twenty-five years ago the Uniting Church in Australia formalised our commitment to walk together in solidarity with the First Peoples of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) by enacting the Covenant statement.
On Sunday 10 July, 1994, the Covenant Statement was read by then President of the Uniting Church Assembly, Dr Jill Tabart, to the Chairperson, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Ps Bill Hollingsworth.
As we mark the anniversary in NAIDOC Week 2019, President of the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly, Dr Deidre Palmer, and President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev Garry Dronfield, reaffirmed the commitment to be in covenant.
“We renew our commitment to walk together with our Congress brothers and sisters towards a nation where First Peoples are celebrated at the centre of what it means to be Australian,” said Dr Palmer.
“We continue to grieve and lament the dispossession, and ongoing injustice for First Peoples.”
“We continue to seek to journey together in the Spirit of Christ and acknowledge that we are still on a journey of learning what it means to be bound to one another in a covenant.”
“Walking together means at times putting the interests of the other ahead of our own. It is a particular challenge for us as Second Peoples to preference the needs of First Peoples, thereby enabling justice, equity and healing to be realised in the relationship.”
The Uniting Church has affirmed the Statement from the Heart and its call for Voice, Treaty and Truth – the 2019 NAIDOC theme.
“In living out our covenantal relationship, we will advocate for First Australians to be given a Voice,” said Dr Palmer. “We seek to be a healing community which fosters truth telling, and we support the treaty negotiations of First Nations Peoples with various governments.”
Rev. Dronfield is a member of the Sovereignty Affirmation Task Group (SATG) established to work through the implications of the 15th Assembly’s 2018 decision to recognise the Sovereignty of Aboriginal and Islander Peoples. For their work, they have developed the understanding that ‘Covenanting is the relationship that shapes how we have conversations about sovereignty and its implications.’
Rev. Dronfield said, “It all comes down to relationships. The need to commit to the relationship, to invest in it, and spend time with one another, to grow the relationship.”
“As the community of Christ this is not foreign to us, this is the way a loving community is able to nurture one another.”
The years between UAICC formation in 1985 and the 1994 Covenant enactment were a time of healing and a growing relationship.
This covenantal relationship was represented beyond the words exchanged through the presentation of a sacred painting.
Dr Palmer and Rev Dronfield gave thanks for those who began to walk together, in solidarity and covenant, so many years ago.
UCA resolutions about recognition and treaty with First Nations Peoples
In 1988 the Assembly resolved:
88.22.22. d. To support efforts to work beyond the concept of the compact proposed by the Australian Government towards a form of treaty – that is an enforceable agreement obtained through formal and full negotiation between Aboriginal political structures and those of the wider Australian community, an agreement which Aboriginal people can use to protect their interests;
In 2000 we resolved:
00.11.02.b. To endorse the idea of a legislated process of negotiation between the leaders of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous people of Australia towards a formal agreement dealing with the ‘unfinished business’ of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s process of reconciliation;
In 2015 we resolved to:
15.22.02.b. Continue to support
Recognition as long as the form of recognition offered can be seen as a step
towards and not a blockage to the larger issues of sovereignty and treaty,
c. Commit to work with Congress to educate membership of the Church about the need for a treaty.
In 2017 a UAICC National Executive Meeting endorsed the Statement from the Heart.
The Statement from the Heart includes this paragraph:
“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.”