Dawn Gilchrist is a Yamatji Elder and Christian Leader. Over the years, she has worked with Australian Red Cross, WA Country Health Services (Goldfields) and Wadjak Northside Aboriginal Community Group. Dawn is also a former IMA Council Member and a Churches of Christ Federal Aboriginal Board Member. In 2019, Dawn was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to community health.
With the referendum approaching on October 14, we asked Dawn to share with us why the Voice to Parliament is important to her. Here is her response:
The Voice to Parliament is the first step towards the inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Constitution. It’s been at least 10 years of hard work from committed, dedicated and passionate people from all walks of life to get support for this referendum.
Being Aboriginal is part of my identity but it’s also part of Australia’s identity. We have a shared history that is not acknowledged in the Constitution. I was born before the 1967 referendum when Aboriginal people were excluded from the Constitution and not fully recognised as people. We were treated as if we were part of the flora and fauna. It was an important historical moment for Australia to include us in the census but there is still no recognition of our existence and deep connections to this nation prior to colonisation.
Having representation through a Voice to Parliament is an important and practical step forwards for our shared history, moving beyond symbolic gestures to genuine and lasting action. Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to speak to the issues that are unique to our communities will give us autonomy and generate new possibilities.
From my understanding, the Voice will update the Constitution to reflect the Australia that we want to live in today. We want to walk together in unity. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is given from the heart, and we are asking people to respond to the invitation with compassion, humanity and in the spirit of reconciliation.
For years I worked in the Health Department. It always seemed difficult to get real changes at the grassroots level. Today we continue to see the devastating effects of systemic and bureaucratic deficiencies and ineffective policies. We are the most disadvantaged group of people in Australia.
The co-designers of the Voice to Parliament have worked diligently and passionately to find a way that will address the disadvantages that our people face. Having a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution, ensures that we will always have a voice and will be heard on issues that impact our people.
It has been years in the making, pre-dating our current government and including advocates from across the political spectrum. I trust their expertise. They are compassionate and fearless advocates for our community and have spent their lives working towards better outcomes for us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I have always believed that given meaningful and genuine support, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the strength and ability to make decisions that would benefit our communities. The Voice to Parliament is not only a mechanism to address our disadvantage. It will embrace the cultural knowledge and expertise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Dawn also has a message for Christians thinking to support the Voice to Parliament:
I certainly hope that the Churches will join with us and walk together in reconciliation and support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The theme for National Reconciliation Week this year was “Be a Voice for Generations” and the Uluru Statement promises a future where we have power over our destiny and can design better futures for our children. I trust that members of God’s family in the Christian Church will respond with God’s unconditional love, grace, and mercy as each one seeks His wisdom and power to heal our Nation and all its people.
A quote that was given to us last Sunday at church was from Charles Spurgeon: “Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you’re not saved yourself, be sure of that”. Those words stirred my heart.
I believe Jesus had compassion for the oppressed. He taught me that all people were created in His image, and we need to love our neighbours as ourselves, and embrace our diversity and differences. That is what enriches our lives and will enrich this country.
The gospel of Jesus is about love. How can churches share the gospel with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if members do not embrace us with the love of Jesus. I ask you to consider what Jesus would do? He would not turn away from injustice or disunity. He would embrace hope, love, grace and mercy for all.
Uluru Statement from the Heart Prayer
We pray for Indigenous peoples, the traditional custodians of this Land, and thank them for their inherent care of your precious creation. May we learn from their wisdom, working towards a sustainable future where the land is nurtured, respected and shared by all. May we listen compassionately to the call of their hearts, so that we may achieve justice, recognition, legislative change and equality for First Australians. Inspire us to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters on this journey towards a just and free nation, that amplifies our Indigenous people’s voice and boldly shares their truth.
In Jesus’s name, Amen.
This prayer was sourced from The Uluru Statement from the Heart PDF from www.caritas.org.au