On the cusp of National Reconciliation Week I find myself thinking: what can I, a middle-aged Anglo-Celtic woman, truly commit to this National Reconciliation Week? I found myself calling on Veronica Brady ibvm, a Loreto Sister who died in 2015, for help. As many of you would know, Veronica was a Professor of Literature, an author, a campaigner, a board member of the ABC and, quite often, in the 80s and 90s, an irritant to the Vatican under Pope John Paul II. Dubbed ‘the larrikin angel’, one of Veronica’s many passions was the rights and future of Indigenous Australians. In a 1994 article in the journal Westerly, Reading Aboriginal Writing, Veronica explored the richness of listening to the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through literature. She wrote:
…Aboriginal people have a good deal to teach us about ourselves, our history, and other ways of being in the world… the memory of human suffering is an essential element in the story of our striving for a better world. In that story, the dead, those Aboriginal people who were vanquished and forgotten… continue to speak and have a meaning as yet unrealised…
National Reconciliation Week 2020 presents us with a plethora of resources to: listen to voice of our Indigenous sisters and brothers, promote awareness of ourselves individually and as a people and prompt us to action. Podcasts, websites, reports, films, prayers, songs, YouTube clips, TV programmes, speeches and articles abound. Veronica would no doubt approve of the many avenues through which the voice of Indigenous Australians can now be heard. She would invite us to ponder these deeply to make meaning in a complex landscape. As Veronica observed: ‘meaning is not reserved to the conquerors; those who suffered and continue to suffer the effects of power have crucial things to say about it and its future directions.’ In a tribute to Veronica on her death, Morag Fraser recalled an experience of Veronica listening to the voice of her sisters in Darwin:
One day we (Veronica and Morag) sat on the ground together, awkwardly, on pandanus mats under trees, while the Yolgnu ladies sat in a magisterial circle of white plastic chairs, smiling wryly at our displaced dignity, and telling us about their lives and ways. We learned about different modes of apprehending the sacred, about culture, about kinship. Veronica was a born woman of words, but on these occasions she was a model of silent appreciation.
While Veronica would often say – Reading may be more important than you think – it is maybe a deeper pondering that we are called to across this significant week.
Stan Grant’s recent article in The Conversation explores the lack of response to the powerful Indigenous voice expressed through the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017. The Uluru Statement’s call for a Voice to a Parliament enshrined in the Constitution provides a practical path forward to finally address the issues that governments alone have been unable to resolve. A Voice to Parliament provides the foundation for better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. They are the ones that have the best understanding of the challenges facing their families and communities. They know the strengths of their communities and what can be achieved when they are involved in designing programs and services meant for them. A Voice to Parliament will empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, allowing them to take ownership and responsibility for the challenges that they face, and work constructively with governments from any political party to develop the laws and policies needed to Close the Gap.
From the personal to the political, I feel drawn this National Reconciliation Week to listen reflectively to the voice of our Indigenous sisters and brothers. At a time when our schools are unable to run many of their creative National Reconciliation Week programmes, perhaps we are called to simply sit and really listen. To facilitate this process, Loreto Ministries Director of Mission, Michelle McCarty, has assembled a sample of recent and relevant Reconciliation-resources. As we move toward the great Feast of Pentecost this weekend, we call on the Spirit of our Creator God to help us listen and learn, heal and hope, advocate and act.
These lectures entitled The End of Silence, echo the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s call for a First Nations Voice to Parliament to enable a deeper understanding of this nation’s shared past and a path towards reconciliation.
Launched as part of Reconciliation Week 2020, it reminds us of the significance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart – an education website with ideas for students/schools to explain the notion of an Aboriginal Voice to Parliament.