For many Indigenous people, their relationship with the land is a deep and sacred connection, characterised by reciprocity and respect. Land is more than a commodity or a place where someone resides. It shapes and informs every aspect of their lives, from their law and spirituality through to their culture, family and sense of identity.
In March this year, Indigenous Ministries Australia (IMA) was able to support nine people to attend the Melbourne Surrender conference. Surrender is held on Wurrundjeri land, near what is now the suburb of Belgrave. For many of the attendees it was their first time at such a gathering, providing a unique opportunity to connect with other Indigenous Christian leaders from across the country.
Through the Welcome to Country ceremony, Surrender showed its deep respect and honour of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians were called to reflect on the sacredness of place and God’s desire for healing between all peoples.
Margaret Moses-Martin, from the Port Hedland church, gave a moving response to the welcome that she received on Wurundjeri land from Aunty Joy Murphy, acknowledging both her family connection to the people of the Pilbara and to the Noongar people of the South West. “Tears have been just rolling from my eyes all afternoon. I respect you for coming and it means much to me…”.
For many Indigenous Australians, Welcome to Country is not simply marking an arrival. It reflects their relationship with the land. In a recent film documentary Dena Gower, one of IMA’s Council members, shared about her special connection to the land along the banks of the Derbal Yerrigan(Swan River, Perth).
“I wonder what is was like when my mob were here. Their spirits were free and happy. They didn’t have any noise…just the noise of the language and the people. I get a real sense of peace from the river. People have to understand that our connection to the land is real, it’s not something we make up. Because when you put your feet in the sand or your hands in the water of the river you are a part of it, you’re connecting to it. I think what Australia needs to learn is that the land does so much – it feeds us, it shelters us, it gives us finances, it takes care of our children. The land gives so much back to us. It’s like if you go into somebody’s garden and you look at their garden and think ‘wow, that’s beautiful, how did you look after that? That rose is growing lovely, oh look at the fruit tree’… It’s like with us, when you come with us, wow that river’s beautiful, how did you look after it, then we’ll tell you.”
Knowing the significance of land as a relationship and culture to Indigenous Australians helps non-Indigenous people understand why Welcome to Country is important – culturally and spiritually. It gives a deeper understanding to why the forced removal of Indigenous people from their land was such a devastating process.
In their piece, “The importance of land”, Australians Together say “for many Indigenous people, colonisation did more than steal their land, it stole their very identity. Despite this history, many Indigenous people today maintain a close connection to their Country.”
We encourage you to watch and share the Indigenous Ministries Australia video clip ‘Welcome to Country’, and consider reading Chris Budden’s Following Jesus in Invaded Spaces: Doing Theology on Aboriginal land or Aboriginal historian Bruce Pascoe’s, Dark Emu, to find out more about this topic.
You can also find a Thanksgiving Study Kit at www.gmp.org.au/IMAkits which contains resources to help you talk about this at your church.