Tuesday, June 04, 2013
Walking on country: student participation
Walking on Country: an initiative of Uniting College for Leadership and Theology (UCLT), supported by Pilgrim Uniting Church and Ken Leaver Scholarship Fund (edited by Danica Patselis with contributions from other participants)
In February this year, a group from UCLT went to Camp Coorong for a ‘Walking on Country’ Indigenous Immersion experience, with the gracious Ngarrindjeri people. The group was guided by (Rev Dr) Tracey Spencer and Aunty Denise Champion and consisted of students, candidates, a business owner, farmer, community workers and faculty. The initiative is an important part of the college’s formation process for ministers, and is extended to family and members of the wider church. Steve Taylor, Principal of the College says “We hope it’s the start of an annual event and an ongoing partnership both with Pilgrim and local indigenous communities.”
As a group we came with various apprehensions, pre-conceived ideas and for some of us feelings of shame, growing up in a culture where we as a second people have not recognised the people of this nation. We haven’t been reconciled within our nation and we have not heard the stories of the first peoples of the land who have lived here for so long. With a gracious and loving smile, Aunty Denise, calmed our fears as she guided us over the weekend. Her warm welcome encouraged us, that we are “Walking on Country” with friends, who long to be in relationship and share with us.
Uncle Tom, welcomed us to Camp Coorong, and began our time by asking us why we had come and what we longed to learn from our time with the Ngarrindjeri people. Uncle Tom’s first response, to listen, spoke deeply to us. Over the following days we followed Uncle Tom out onto the land listening to his stories and the stories of his ancestors who had lived and thrived on this land for many years. A young farmer in the group reflected “[the Ngarrindjeri peoples’] cultural practices have been so well developed over the many years of learning…The indigenous culture is much more interested in co existing with the environment. I felt more and more of their pain from the irreversible damage second peoples have inflicted on their land in such a short amount of time.” Ngarrindjerri women also sat with us and taught us their traditional weaving of baskets, hats, bags and art with the reeds found by the River. In response to our thanks they looked into our eyes and said “We are Ngarrindjerri people, we want to share these things with you, that is what we do, we share.”
After listening to Uncle Tom’s stories of our nation’s sad history, we lamented at the slow and pitiful recognition of the Indigenous peoples, and their rights and dignity as custodians of this land in the constitution. We lamented at the horrific stories of displacement, abuse and stripping of cultural heritage. For many of us the experience of participating in the “racism game” one afternoon with Tracey Spencer, unveiled our eyes to the institutionalized racism within our society. We began crying out – not for a change to the rules of the game, but a doing away with the value and playing of the game, imagining a new future, without ‘teams’ and a society founded in love and reconciliation. Later that night, Aunty Denise, brought us together, lit a candle and playing her guitar she shared with us a song in the Adnyamathanha tongue of her people “The light of Christ has come into the world.” She reminded us that first and second peoples can be the light of Christ in the world, standing in reconciliation together and then also with God.
Returning home, we have all had much time to reflect on how we will follow the example of Aunty Denise and Uncle Tom, in listening, sharing and engaging with reconciliation. We are thankful for communities like Pilgrim who encourage all people to covenant with the UAICC. Many of us have taken steps to share our experiences in our own communities and begin new relationships with people in Congress and the wider indigenous community. For each of us we have realised that reconciliation begins with relationship and that continuing action, justice and change begins here.
This was a copy of what was recently shared by Danica Patselis, student at Uniting College, as part of Reconciliation Sunday, at Pilgrim Uniting.