Volume 19, Issue 3, October 2006
A commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s address to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Alice Springs, 29 November 1986; contributors include Pat Dodson, Jacinta Elston, Lee Miena Skye, and Graham Paulson.
Volume 19, Number 3, October 2006
THE FOCUS OF THIS ISSUE is to remind ourselves, and the Church, that there is a need to rediscover the treasure lying deep within the heart of each of us and in the heart of this nation. But do we have the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, or the heart to feel it, or the wisdom to search for it?
The Indigenous people who have lived for eons in the vastness of this continent are steeped in the spirit of the earth and have developed a unique spiritual affinity with the whole of creation. However, I believe that the source from which their spirituality comes is open to all because we are one, made in the image and likeness of the One Creator.
The late John Paul II said, “The silence of the bush taught you a quietness of soul that put you in touch with another world of God’s Spirit. Your careful attention to the details of kinship spoke of your reverence for birth, life and human generation. You knew that children need to be loved, to be full of joy...secure in the knowledge that they belong. Through your closeness to the land you touched the sacredness of [human] relationship with God.”
Those of us who have lost touch with the earth and nature have been deprived of its mystique, so our body, soul and spirit are out of balance with the earth. Therefore there is disharmony not only within ourselves but in all that is around us. The challenge for the Church today is to restore the mysticism of the natural world, which is filled with the Spirit of the Creator, into its liturgy and worship. When I consider the gospel story of the pearl of great price, I think it could be that the spiritual worth (the essence) of our Indigenous culture that is now slowly being recognised will turn out to be the Pearl of Great Price in this land.
In a collection that regular Pacifica readers will discover is quite different from our usual fare, this issue brings together a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices around the theme of relation-ships between land, culture and faith for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as they consider critically their experience of the Church. Some of the articles reflect typical Western scholarly norms more than others. Some call for a different kind of attentiveness as readers are invited to listen, respect, respond and connect with the voices and stories that are presented. In order to preserve something of the oral dimension of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, several of the articles and the vignettes that come in between are based on interviews with Indigenous people. The impetus for this issue is itself the twentieth anniversary of an oral presentation, the speech of Pope John Paul II to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at Alice Springs in November 1986.
In preparing this issue of Pacifica, the guest editors hoped to fore-ground Indigenous theological writing and experience and to work on a model of partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. The editorial team comprising Elizabeth Pike, Anne Elvey, Brian McCoy and Robyn Reynolds is delighted, therefore, to be able to publish articles from Lee Miena Skye, a Palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) womanist scholar and Graham Paul-son, the first Australian Indigenous ordained Baptist minister. Their articles reflect two quite different approaches to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Theology. We affirm the collab-orative work of Pat Dodson, Jacinta Elston and Brian McCoy in their report “Leaving Culture at the Door” and of David Thompson and Michael Connolly in their reflection on doing Aboriginal and Islander Theology in context. Dominic O’Sullivan brings an Indigenous perspec-tive from across the Tasman to Pope John Paul II’s legacy concerning reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. Tracy Spencer challenges us to attend to stories of respectful and engaged everyday contact between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people as potential parables for a postcolonial theology in Australia. This editorial also reflects our hope for partnership in that it represents a collaboration between Elizabeth (Betty) Pike, a Nyoongah woman (from the south west of Western Australia), and Anne Elvey, some of whose ancestors were early invaders/settlers of Balardong country in Western Australia. In order to keep our voices reasonably clear, Anne’s words here are in italics and Betty’s in regular print, though much of this editorial reflects our joint discussions.
If suffering is at the heart of Christianity, it can certainly be found at the roots of our land. The pain, sorrow, bloodshed and tears of our Indigenous people mingle with those of the early settlers. Many of these were convicts sentenced to a life of cruelty and injustice and forcefully removed from their own homeland and families. So much of this suffering has been induced by politics, greed, blind ignorance and corrupt power. These are the things buried deep in the psyche of this nation. They must be addressed before any authentic healing can occur. Such healing could be achieved if you could consider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as your spiritual ancestors, and though you are of different stock, you could enter into and be grafted onto their spirit. You could then read our continuing story as the fulfilling history of the human presence in this land.
Graham Paulson and, in a different way Michael Connolly, argue here, that there are parallels and perhaps models in biblical traditions for reading a continuing story in relation to land, culture and Christian faith in Australia. For Paulson the biblical narrative takes precedence over later colonial Christian narratives and offers a starting point for an Aboriginal Theology that is culturally embedded. Connolly considers both the priority of relationship to land for those Indigenous people whose connection to land remains strong and the potential for Christianity to offer a spiritual home for those Indigenous people who through colonial violence have lost connection to land and kin. Many will find this a challenging position.
Lee Miena Skye offers a voice that unashamedly begins with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as the site of inculturation of Christianity, so that in the encounter between land, culture and faith, Christian theology is reimagined. From her field work with some central Australian Aboriginal and Tiwi Islander women, Skye underscores key areas of Christian theology, such as eschatology, Incarnation, and Trinity, that are being reimagined through the deeply lived experience of being an Indigenous woman today. For Skye the women who are her informants are Christian theologians in their own right.
The Creator spirit is eternally inviting each of us to a deeper awareness of our own spirituality. The spirit also calls the wisdom leaders of a culture to be involved in a collective shift in order to develop their communal spirituality. This occurs most particularly when a sudden traumatic change has occurred to a culture whose spirituality is at the centre of their everyday lives and experiences.
This development can be achieved by introducing into ceremony new songs, dances and stories that ritualise the changed lifestyle. This will take time, pain, courage and vision, as grief, doubt and forgiveness will have to be dealt with. This will eventually give new strength and direction to the soul of the culture, as communities re-establish and enrich their identity.
Because of the staggering fragmentation of Aboriginal people from their various cultures, many who live scattered in suburbia are in a far more complicated situation. Here then, lies the challenge for the Church to walk with us, to listen more seriously, to heed the words of John Paul II at the very beginning of his 1986 Alice Springs speech: “I want to tell you right you right away how much the Church esteems you and how much she wishes to assist you in your spiritual and material needs.” Later he says: “Many of you have been dispossessed of your traditional lands and separated from your tribal ways, some still have their traditional culture...for others there is still no real place for camp-fires and kinship observances, except on the fringes of towns.”
Today, however, very few churches have anything within them that would portray any connection at all with Aboriginal culture, or even anything Australian, that would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to feel welcome. There is little if anything in the liturgy that hints at esteeming or loving us.
In their joint article, Pat Dodson, Jacinta Elston and Brian McCoy explore some of the difficulties of Aboriginal and Islander experiences of Church especially at key moments such as funerals when cultural values and church practices can be in tension. With particular reference to Roman Catholic practice, Dodson writes: “There is no desire to endorse and adopt ritual practice in Aboriginal culture as capable of the same salvific encounters as the performance of the sacramental rite in the Roman rite.” The article concludes with two key questions from Elston: “How do the churches support our mob to retain their spiritual strengths? And, how do they do it in a way that doesn’t mean that people feel they have to choose between being Aboriginal and being a Christian?”
Sometimes I think there is an attitude driving so many Australians, even within the Church, to an almost obsessive concern to control everyone and everything. There appears to be some unconscious element of fear in their hearts, as they constantly assert their rights to ownership of this land. Does this underlie the fact that this land was acquired by theft?
There is no doubt that we cannot undo the past, but we must go forward together, to fashion a different and better future. Telling the true history of our past will give us this freedom. However, there will always remain a fundamental right for Indigenous people of this country in regard to our belonging. We are the first people and traditional owners. This needs to be respected and honoured in any future conciliatory dialogue. Telling the true history of our past and our present achievements will give us the understanding, knowledge and freedom to fashion a different future.
As we are discussing this editorial Betty says to me, “We should be so proud of our culture but we are shamed”. While Dominic O’Sullivan points here to the positive outcomes of Pope John Paul II’s speech, the real shame is how little things have moved in the churches and the wider community since 1986. As a message stick makes its way around many Roman Catholic parishes to Alice Springs in October 2006, Betty reminds me of how many other changes have only been rhetoric. She challenges me to recognise our failure and our need to honour the antiquity and wisdom of a living culture that predates all the cultures of the biblical world.
May the people and the Church of the future look deeply and truthfully into our country’s history then they will find there is a Pearl of Great Price here in our midst, our very own Creation spirituality that belongs to this land.
Elizabeth Pike and Anne Elvey
25 August 2006
Leaving Culture at the Door: Aboriginal Perspectives on Christian Belief and Practice
Pat Dodson and Jacinta Elston offer perspectives on the relation-ship between the Christian church and Aboriginal culture with Brian McCoy. Both Pat and Jacinta grew up in very different regions, culturally, historically and geographically in north Australia. Their relation-ship to Aboriginal culture and Christian expression is compared and contrasted. Brian, work colleague and friend to Pat and Jacinta, continues to work with Aboriginal people around issues of health. Their contribution begins with Pat and Jacinta offering early memories of growing up within a church and its particular Christian and social context. It then moves to their reflections on current church practice, and how problematic the connection between Aboriginal culture and Christian practice can become. This leads to a focus on the conduct of funerals where culture and belief, Aboriginal and Christian, so often meet and sometimes collide. The article concludes with some challenges that face the Christian churches today.
Pope John Paul II and Reconciliation as Mission
Australian Aboriginal Catholic Women Seek Wholeness: Hearts Are Still Burning
Towards an Aboriginal Theology
“Getting off the Verandah”: Contextual Australian Theology in-Land
Clapsticks and Karaoke: The Melting Pot of Indigenous Identity
Rene Baker File #28/E.D.P.
From Patrons to Partners, and the Separated Children of the Kimberley: A History of the Catholic Church in the Kimberley, W.A.
Faith, Politics and Reconciliation. Catholicism and the Politics of Indigeneit
Reports from a Wild Country: ethics for decolonization
A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams, and Events in the Australian Western Desert
Legendary Tales of the Australian Aborigines
Ancient and Modern: Time, Culture and Indigenous Philosophy
Elizabeth (Betty) Pike
is writer-in-residence at Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Melbourne. She is a Nyoongah woman, whose ancestors are the people of south-west Australia and an Irish convict. Elizabeth is the author of numerous articles with an Aboriginal focus; her work has appeared in Developing an Australian Theology (ed. Peter Malone), Bread for the Table (Iona community), and journals including Madonna, Outlook, Summit, Nelen Yubu, Kairos and EarthSong. She has spoken at conferences including “Prayer and Spirituality in the Early Church” (Sydney 1999) and “PeaceWorks” (the conference of Women Scholars of Religion and Theology; Melbourne 2004).
is Director of Research (Administration) at Melbourne College of Divinity and Acting Editor of Pacifica. She is also an Honorary Research Associate in the Centre for Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at Monash University, an Adjunct member of the Golding Centre for Women’s History, Spirituality and Theology at Australian Catholic University, and a Binnap Partner with Aboriginal Catholic Ministry Melbourne. Her recent publications include An Ecological Feminist Reading of the Gospel of Luke: A Gestational Paradigm (Mellen, 2005) and “Touching (on) death: On being toward the other in the Gospel of Luke”, Bible and Critical Theory (June 2006). She lives on Wurundjeri land in Melbourne.
is Chairperson of the Lingiari Foundation, the Lingiari Policy Centre, the Kimberley Development Commission, and is partner of DodsonLane Consultants. He lives in Broome.
is Assistant Dean, Indigenous Health within the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Molecular Sciences at James Cook University, Townsville. She lives in Townsville with her husband, Martin, and two children, Hope and Matthew.
Brian McCoy S.J.
is an NHMRC Fellow in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) at La Trobe University. He is based at Newman College in Melbourne, and works with the Palyalatju Maparnpa Health Service in the Kimberley.
is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Maori Education Research Institute, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. He has a PhD in political science from the University of Waikato and is the author of Faith, Politics and Reconciliation: Catholicism and the Politics of Indigeneity (Huia Publishers and the Australian Theological Forum, 2005) and co-editor of Turanga Ngatahi: Standing Together: The Catholic Diocese of Hamilton 1840-2005 (Dunmore Publishing, 2005).
Lee Miena Skye
is a Palawa woman and Womanist Theologian, affiliated with the Indigenous section of the Uniting Church. Her recent publications include: “An Investigation into Black Feminine/Feminist Christology/Theology in comparison to White Feminine/Feminist Christology/Theology”, in Tiddas Talking Business (ed. A. Pattel-Gray, ISPCK, 2000); “Yiminga (Spirit) calling: A study of Australian Aboriginal women's contribution to Creation Theology – The transformation of Christian religion”, In God's Image, Journal of Asian Women's Resource Centre for Culture and Theology 20, 4 (December 2001); “The Spirit of God: The Centre for Australian Aboriginal Christian women”, in Seeking the Centre, RLA Conference Proceedings 2001 (eds. C. Rayment and M. Byrne, RLA Press, 2002); Kerygmatics (Messengers) of the New Millennium: A Study of Australian Aboriginal Women's Christology (ISPCK Publications, forth-coming) and “Roundtable Discussion: Must I be Womanist?”, Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 22, 1 (Spring 2006).
the first Australian Indigenous Baptist Minister, has ministered amongst Indigenous peoples over some forty years, beginning with service on the pastoral team of a small Aboriginal and Pacific Islander church on the far north coast of New South Wales in 1963, and including some transformative years spent amongst the Warlpiri people in Central Australia at the beginnings of the land rights movement in the late 1960s. He was ordained in1968.
grew up in a suburb of Melbourne called Murrumbeena, which, she was told, meant “land of many frogs” in an Indigenous language. Her engagement with Indigenous people began in her late teens, through Uniting Church sponsored visits to Arnhem Land, and later inner city ministry in Fitzroy. Tracy spent seven years in the Far North of South Australia as a Uniting Church Minister. She became especially close to the Adnyamathanha community of the Flinders Ranges, with whom she is pursuing her current research, developing a contextual and narrative theology based around life writing about Jim Page and Rebecca Forbes. She is currently Minister at Alice Springs Uniting Church.
born in Sydney, is an Anglican priest, ordained in Newcastle, NSW, who was Chaplain to the Lockhart River Aboriginal Community on Cape York Peninsula from 1969–1977, then priest-in-charge at Nadi, Fiji, 1977–1980, then on the staff at Nungalinya College, Darwin, before transferring to Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in 1990. He is also a linguist and an anthropologist and assists with native title claims at Lockhart River. His publications include an outline of the Lockhart River languages and papers on Bora and Church, and the history of the Lockhart River Mission.
has spent most of his life at the Yarrabah community near Cairns. His mother is from the Kuku Yalanju country that takes in the Daintree region north of Cairns. His father’s country is around Kowanyama community on the west coast of Cape York Peninsula. He belongs to the Kunjen people of that area. Michael worked as a “billy boy” in Queensland Railways and joined the regular army in 1968. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, serving in the 2RAR/NZ battalion as an infantryman. He became a committed Christian in 1982 and was subsequently ordained priest in the Anglican Church in 1987. He became honorary Principal of Wontulp-Bi-Buya College in 2001. He trained in theology at Nungalinya College Darwin, Wontulp-Bi-Buya College Cairns, Charles Sturt University and St John’s College Morpeth.
is a religious Sister belonging to the Congregation of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart. She has spent more than 25 years working with Indigenous communities in Central Australia and the Northern Territory’s “Top End”. Before coming to teach at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne in 2006, Robyn taught at Nungalinya College in Darwin for 10 years. Her doctoral research completed in 2000 was on “Catholic Sacrament engaging with Wadeye Ritual”.