As I think about this year’s NAIDOC week, I reflect on the theme for NAIDOC Week 2013 - “We value the vision: Yirrkala Bark Petitions 1963”. As an Aboriginal person, I thank God for my Indigenous leaders who have challenged and continue to challenge established societal norms, legislation and the Australian Constitution.
But what I especially wanted to reflect on is how as Australian Christians, we can support and love our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and respect and acknowledge them as the first people of Australia.
The fact remains that Aboriginal people are among the most marginalized people in Australia. We think about the statistics – 58% of Indigenous people living in poverty, homelessness at four times the rate of non-Indigenous people, unemployment at 3.2 times the rate of non-Indigenous people, life expectancy approximately 11 years lower than non-Indigenous people, Indigenous children twice as likely as non-Indigenous children to grow up to be unemployed, high rates of prison incarceration, poor health, and the list goes on. We must remember that for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that these statistics are talking about our Uncles and Aunties, our Brothers and Sisters, our Cousins, our Nieces and Nephews. . .our family, our community. For us, these statistics have names.
When I think of these statistics I think of the scripture in Matthew 25:35-36: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."
This scripture is constantly with me. I envisage God, speaking to Australian Christians, and imploring us to read this scripture through the eyes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. As Mother Theresa once said: “I know you think you should make a trip to Calcutta, but I strongly advise you to save your airfare and spend it on the poor in your own country. It's easy to love people far away. It's not always easy to love those who live right next to us”.
My vision for Australia, is one where every Australian, including all Governments, and all Churches, recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders as the first people of this land. My vision for Australia is one where Australian Christians don’t just let Governments “look after” Indigenous people, but where Australian Christians open their hearts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to follow God’s call on our lives to love our neighbours. My vision is to see Churches resourcing Indigenous Christian Leadership Development, to see Churches employing Indigenous people, and resourcing churches in Indigenous rich communities to show Chirst’s love in practical ways.
For it is Christ’s love that brings transformation, so let us value a new vision for this country, one based on love for our first people and let us see what transformation Christ brings to Australia.
Brooke Prentis is an emerging Aboriginal Christian Leader. Her people are the Waka Waka people in Queensland. Brooke is also a fully qualified Chartered Accountant and is one of one 17 Indigenous Chartered Accountants in all of Australia. For the past 12 months Brooke was employed as the Ministry Leader of Indigenous Ministries in the South Queensland Division. Brooke now does this voluntarily under the Ipswich Corps of the Salvation Army due to lack of financial resources. Brooke currently serves on the Salvation Army’s National Indigenous Reference Group. In Brooke’s spare time she is Coordinator of the Grasstree Gathering, a national, non-denominational conference bringing together emerging Indigenous Christian Leaders from across Australia. Brooke is also a Board Member of TEAR Australia.