It has been a difficult and troubling week in the United States in terms of race relations. The death of George Floyd at the knee of a police officer brought to the fore a brokenness in the USA. This tragedy has swiftly followed on from: the shooting of an African- American jogger, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia; the racial targeting of an African-American bird watcher, Christian Cooper, in New York’s Central Park; and, Breonna Taylor’s, shooting in a case of mistaken identity. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the US and all of the those who continue to be marginalised, oppressed and killed.
It would be easy for us in Australia to think of this as a US problem. It would be easy to stand back in outrage at another country’s injustices. However, the Bible, in Matthew 7:3-5 challenges us to look at our own shortcomings, difficulties and inadequacies before looking at others, both individually and as a nation.
This week is National Reconciliation week in Australia (27 May to 3 June). These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey: the 1967 Referendum acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the High Court Mabo decision. National Reconciliation Week is preceded by National Sorry Day, 26 May. This week reminds all Australians that we have our own injustices to deal with and much to be sorry and repentant about.
This year’s National Reconciliation week theme, “In this Together”, reinforces that we all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures. CEO of Reconciliation Australia, Karen Mundine states that, “When we come together to build mutual respect and understanding, we shape a better future for all Australians.”
Karen goes further to say, “Throughout this time we have also learnt how to reset relationships based on respect. While much has been achieved, there is still more work to be done and this year is the ideal anniversary to reflect on how far we have come while setting new directions for the future.”
There is much more to do. The statistics speak for themselves in terms of incarceration, health and wellbeing, education and employment of Indigenous Australians:
- In 2017, Indigenous prisoners represented 27% of the total full-time adult prisoner population, whilst accounting for only 2% of the total Australian population.
- The detention rate for Indigenous children aged 10-17 years was 26 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth in 2016.
- In 2008, almost half of all Indigenous males (48%) and 21% of females aged 15 years or over had been formally charged by police.
- Over 400 indigenous people have died in custody since 1991 out of a total of 1220 deaths – representing one third of all deaths.
Health and Wellbeing
- Life expectancy for Indigenous people is a decade shorter than non-Indigenous people, 73.7 years for women and 69.1 years for men.
- Indigenous women also experienced double the level of maternal mortality in 2016.
- Indigenous suicide increased from 5% of total Australian suicide in 1991, to 50% in 2010, despite Indigenous people making up only 2% of the Australian population.
Education and Employment
- Approximately 86% of non-Indigenous Australians finished year 12 in 2015 compared to only 62% of Indigenous students
- Where 75% of non-Indigenous Australians found work in 2015, only 48% of Indigenous Australians were able to secure gainful employment.
As Christian Schools, we have the opportunity to help rewrite
(or better still, re-right) this story!
Partnering with Australians Together
CSA has worked closely together with Australians Together to establish a new narrative with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters. To this end, we have a range of materials on our website, including:
- Christian and Indigenous spirituality
- Respectfully engaging with Indigenous communities
- Listening to the stories and voices of Indigenous Australians
- Indigenous Research, and
- How to engage with Indigenous people, culture and history.
We also developed together with Australians Together a set of materials to help teachers teach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. Areas covered by this cross-curriculum priority document include:
- The challenge for Australian teachers and students
- Planning tools connected to a biblical worldview (GBS)
- Australians Together Learning Framework
- Ten steps to planning curriculum
- A study in Aboriginal spirituality
- Common questions answered, and
- Useful knowledge when responding.
We hope that CSA schools will make use of these materials to teach and educate our students about not only a broken past, but a possible hope-filled future.
Australia has its own history of dispossession, violence and disadvantage which stretches back to colonisation. The discrimination encountered by our Indigenous people continues to be borne out in contemporary society through significant inequality in health, education, employment and incarceration. While it is sometimes easier to engage with problems of racism and injustice beyond our borders, we must not be ignorant to the issues facing our own nation.
However, as God’s people we are called to model a reconciled community, and to be at the forefront of promoting a more just future for our country. This requires that we seek to listen and learn, and that we acknowledge both the wounds of the past and the injustices of the present.
Following the example of Jesus, we should be committed the changing the narrative about race in Australia. Our Indigenous people have an important story to tell, and their story, is ultimately our story as well.
Ultimately, we need to have a shared vision of a future together that brings life and hope. To this end, as Christians we must seek to have a First People’s Heart.
In relationship with Indigenous people: We seek to develop a more just narrative with our Indigenous brothers and sisters. As First and Second Peoples, we seek to journey together, to create socially just and equitable relationships, listening and learning from one another.
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. “Proverbs 31:8-9