The 14th Assembly in Perth determined “that a significant priority for its life during the next triennium is to explore with Congress what it would mean for the practices of the Church to recognise and affirm that First Peoples are sovereign Peoples”. (Minute 15.08 a)
UAICC members gathered with ASC members and Moderators in small groups to assist discernment and there was some great sharing on practical ways sovereignty might change our practices.
There are a variety of meanings for sovereignty, including the way in which First Peoples understand God vesting sovereignty in the land from which First Peoples life and identity springs.
One understanding that was used to guide discussion was that sovereignty means that, recognising their prior and continuing existence – as individuals and a community – First Peoples are asserting their inherent right to negotiate their place in the ongoing political and missional settlement of this nation.
Some practical suggestions on how sovereignty might touch the practices of the church were offered:
• Support and educate people around the need for sovereignty and treaty.
• Learn the story of sacred life in this place and how that changes our approach to mission.
• The church lives on stolen land. What might reparation look like?
• How has the church’s partnership with colonial powers distorted its story of Jesus? How might the church support the development of Indigenous Theology?
• How does the acceptance of sovereignty and the presence of God challenge the way we understand God in our world? How might this impact our understanding of the state, for example, and our role in it?
• What might sovereignty mean for the shape of the church in Australia?
• Could the church give priority to history-telling, particularly the history of local churches in relation to First Peoples?
• Should we move beyond covenant as a relationship conversation to treaty as real action/obligation?
There was deep sharing between all involved that extended beyond the session across shared meals and conversations over the weekend.
There was particular enthusiasm for finding ways to support the development of Indigenous Theology and for local churches exploring their history in relation to First Peoples.
Rev Dr Chris Budden is the Interim National Coordinator of the Uniting Aboriginal and islander Christian Congress.