14th Assembly approves Congress proposals

The 14th Assembly has passed a series of proposals to address historic and current injustices against Australia’s First Peoples.

The proposals were brought by the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC).

Living out the Covenant

The Uniting Church will work with the UAICC to oppose the forced closure of Aboriginal communities.

The Assembly returned to Proposal 24, which was about living out the covenant between the Uniting Church and the UAICC.

Support for the Northern Regional Council of Congress (NRCC)  in its opposition to fracking on Aboriginal land was accepted, and a contingent of youthful members made a plea for the Assembly to make a symbolic action in response to the potential closure of Aboriginal communities.

The action will involve a photo of all Assembly members on the lawns of the University of WA and will take place in the coming days.

Additional requests were added to the proposal for the President and other heads of churches to meet with the Prime Minister and the premiers of Western Australia and South Australia to make known their opposition to forced closure of the communities.

First Peoples are sovereign Peoples

The Assembly accepted Proposal 25 to explore with Congress what it would mean for the practices of the Church to recognise and affirm that First Peoples are sovereign. The proposal  had been put on hold until the UAICC could give more information about the words “sovereignty” and “treaty”.

Tasmania Mission Development Presbytery Minister Michelle Cook noted that although there is a definition of sovereignty in the preamble to the Uniting Church Constitution, “The proposal is intended for the Uniting Church to explore what it means practically, with the use of property, ministry in our schools, everything.”

Another request was added to the proposal for Assembly Standing Committee to develop resources to educate the Church on the need for a treaty.

Indigenous Recognition in the Constitution

The Assembly has agreed to continue to support the recognition of indigenous people in the Australian Constitution, as long as the form of recognition offered can be seen as a step towards and not a blockage to larger issues of sovereignty and treaty.

It was noted that there is a diverse set of views within Congress regarding Recognition in the Constitution.

Under the proposal the Uniting Church also committed to work with Congress to educate members of the Church about the need for a treaty.

During the discussion it was confirmed that in 2000 the Uniting Church endorsed the idea of legislated process for Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders to enter into a formal agreement treaty dealing with the unfinished business of reconciliation.

After much discussion about the meaning of the words “sovereignty” and “treaty”, National Coordinator of the UAICC Rev. Dr Chris Budden noted that the intention of the proposal was to enter into a conversation with members of the Church with the meaning “a little open, so that we can decide together what those words will mean.”

Doctrine of Discovery

The Uniting Church has moved with strong support to repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery and its theological foundations as a relic of colonialism, feudalism, and religious, cultural, and racial biases that have no place in the treatment of First Peoples.

In discussion, members of the Assembly considered the relationship between the Doctrine of Discovery and doctrine of terra nullius in Australia. Speaking to this point, Rev. Dr Avril Hannah-Jones from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania said there was a clear difference between the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius, although terra nullius was derived from the Doctrine of Discovery.

“Under the Doctrine of Discovery, the Church is saying these people are not as important simply because they (the colonisers) are Christians. This is something we have said as part of the holy, catholic and apostolic church – it is a dreadful part of our history. We need to educate people about this terrible part of our Church’s history. I am sure there are many here who would love to be a part of that process.”

The Assembly also affirmed the World Council of Churches “Statement on the Doctrine of Discovery Impact on Indigenous Peoples”, and will encourage the statement to be considered in the Church, particularly in its theological colleges.

Yolngu Nations call for a Treaty

The Assembly has noted and supported the call for a treaty for the Yolngu People of Arnhem Land.

The 14th Assembly applauded after accepting the proposal to affirm the Northern Regional Council of Congress (NRCC) be granted an internationally recognised treaty.

NRCC has acknowledged that Arnhem Land was not conquered or occupied by foreigners in the colonial era, nor succeeded by a foreign jurisdiction through a treaty.

In presenting the proposal Rev. Steve Orme said: “This is a specific case for a specific area to acknowledge that the Yolgnu nations existed. We want to be recognised and talked with and treated with respect as people who have law and governance that is older than western system.”

“In this proposal we are calling for the Church to stand with and support us.”

The session closed with a video about the protests against forced closure of Aboriginal communities.