Flying the flag(s) for reconciliation
Vince and Enid Ross, retired pastor Denis and Maureen Atkinson, territorial commander Commissioner Floyd Tidd, and territorial cross cultural and indigenous ministries consultant Major Pam Marshall were guiding voices at the THQ chapel on Thursday, 29 May, when the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags were blessed and accepted for use in the headquarters foyer, alongside the national and the Salvation Army flags.
The dedication event commenced with a welcome to country and acknowledgement of elders and the original owners and guardians of the land by Mr Ross; processes duly repeated by Mr Atkinson, as a mutual sharing of respect between ‘old and new’ Australians present at the ceremony.
Major Marshall shared the history of Australia’s annual national reconciliation week, which marks both the successful referendum to recognise the right of indigenous people to be recognised in the national census (27 May, 1967) and the recognition of native title (3 June, 1992).
Representing Victoria’s indigenous nations, Mr Atkinson shared the symbolism of the two indigenous flags and said ‘flags are important because they give identity and recognition. We’re delighted that The salvation Army recognises indigenous people today…it is important that indigenous people receive acknowledgement and recognition after being denied that for 200 years – we didn’t have a flag back then, when our people weren’t recognised as people, but as part of the country’s flora and fauna.’
With dignity, humour, candour, passion and charm, Mr Atkinson compared and contrasted the European perspective with the indigenous perspective:
discovery possession exploration
colonisation and federation
assimilation policies, then reconciliation
invasion and dispossession
extermination, massacres and survival
discrimination and conciliation
‘How can we put the past behind us,’ he asked, ‘and make this beautiful country more fully as success for all of us?
‘We thank God for those who brought the gospel, sometimes under severe hardship, Mr Atkinson continued, referencing missionaries who lived on the land with Aboriginal people. ‘We, as indigenous people,’ he added, ‘are bitterly disappointed that there was not a groundswell of opposition from the church to government policies. They turned their backs.’
Citing Micah 6:8’s call for justice, mercy, humility and faith, he said that his ‘dream is that the indigenous peoples of Australia will be seen in a different light by the general population of Australia, and be officially included and recognised in our constitution.’
Commissioner Tidd responded with a ‘deep appreciation for our guests’, seeing the flags and ceremony as ‘symbolic of our ongoing commitment to walk together’.
‘We recognise the original owners of the land on which we live and minister…the significance of the indigenous peoples in the past, but also in the present and the future. The Salvation Army has an ongoing commitment to reconciliation between the indigenous and non-indigenous Australians; as followers of Christ we are called to a ministry of reconciliation.’
The flags, he added, would bring ‘blessing, challenge and encouragement’.
The Pitityinjarra song shared by the congregation
Benediction by Aunty Betty Pike