Prior to colonisation, more than 250 Indigenous languages were spoken throughout the continent and most of these had several dialects. Today only 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as elders pass on.
Stuart has spent more than four decades working with First Peoples in the Northern Territory prior to becoming President. He’s been an accountant, operations manager, general manager, pastor, cultural awareness trainer, community educator, and Moderator.
After 10 years in the Territory, Stuart realised that not being able to speak with Aboriginal people in their own language was holding him back from deeper relationships.
“I realised they could not communicate at a deep level what they needed to with me and likewise I could not with them.”
While working as the General Manager of the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA), he stood down and began an intensive course of study in the Yolngu language.
“Learning language was the key that unlocked a deeper intellectual engagement with First Peoples. It has expanded my world-view exponentially.”
“Importantly, this new engagement with First Peoples helped me to understand the concepts of communal land ownership which were fundamental to lands rights cases being submitted at the time.”
“Significantly, I was able to support Rev. Dr Wan’kal (Djiniyini) Gondarra OAM and others in submitting the full implications of Native Title arising from the Wik Peoples v Queensland case to then Prime Minister Paul Keating.”
Language also enabled Stuart to form deeper spiritual connections with First Peoples. He has been adopted in the Birrikili clan of the Gupapuyngu Nation with the skin name bulany meaning red kangaroo.
In his NAIDOC Week message, Stuart said: “All First Peoples languages are life-giving – yours, mine, everyone’s.”
“This week, all First Peoples stand strong in heart, mind, soul and spirit.”
The message was filmed in front of the painting given in 1994 by the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) to mark the covenant entered into with the Uniting Church in Australia.
“God is bound in a relationship with people in a covenantal relationship. In a similar way, First Nation Peoples and Second Peoples of the Uniting Church seek to be bound in covenant with each other and with God so that we may contribute to a more just church and nation,” said Stuart.
“As the Uniting Church currently has a conversation seeking to understand more deeply what recognising the sovereignty of First Peoples would mean for the practises of our Church, we also seek to renew our covenant with our indigenous brothers and sisters.”
“One of the ways we can demonstrate this commitment is by encouraging and enabling the use of First People’s Languages in our worship, meetings and theological education faculties and supporting national efforts to preserve indigenous languages.”
President’s NAIDOC Week Greeting
Yo bukmak, ŋarra Bulany, Stuart McMillan
Warrpam’ yolŋu matha Walŋamirri
Nhumalaŋ ga nanapurruŋ, bukmak.
Dhuwala week limuuruŋ yolŋu
Dharraga dal ga ŋayaŋumirri, mämirri
My skin is red kangaroo. I’m Stuart McMillan.
All First People’s languages are life-giving. Yours, mine, everyone’s.
This week all First Peoples stand strong in heart, mind, soul and spirit.
Deep affection for you all.