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Aboriginal Spirituality and Religious Traditions

The Process of Reconciliation

In Australia, Reconciliation is used mainly to describe a way of improving relationships between
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. It allows all people to move into the future with a new
relationship based on mutual recognition, understanding and respect. It means that the mistakes
and injustices perpetrated in the past toward indigenous peoples, such as dispossession and the
Stolen Generations, must be completely acknowledged so that all Australians can live together in
In 1991 the Federal Parliament unanimously voted for legislation setting up the Council for
Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR), which had ten years to investigate the desirability of an
instrument of Reconciliation. While the path to Australias reconciliation with its Indigenous
peoples is still ongoing, this initiative has the support of all religious traditions.
On Saturday 27 May 2000 at the Sydney Opera House, the CAR presented its final proposal for a
national document for Reconciliation. The next day more than 250 000 people walked for
Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It is estimated that during Corroboree 2000 and
National Reconciliation Week, hundreds of thousands of people throughout Australia walked
across bridges for Reconciliation.
An important dimension of Reconciliation is recognition of the reality that Indigenous communities
are as varied as any other community in Australian society. For example, the largest population of
Indigenous Australians lives in Sydney (mostly in western Sydney) and has a profile quite different
from Aboriginal peoples living a more traditional lifestyle in north-west Arnhem Land.
Reconciliation must take different forms in keeping with the different circumstances of each
Today the vast majority of Indigenous Australians are affiliated with one or another of the Christian
Churches. For Christian Churches the relationship between Aboriginal spiritualities and
Christianity can be especially problematic. Many changes, however, have taken place in the
relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Christian Churches since the mission days. In
contrast to the early missionary days, there are now Aboriginal Christian church movements,
particularly among the Protestant churches. Many churches have begun to bring together
traditional Aboriginal cultural practices with different aspects of Church life, especially its
ceremonial and ritual life. Most of the mainstream churches now incorporate Aboriginal ministries.
Many Aboriginal peoples today have connected Christianity into their existing Aboriginal belief
systems. Others have, by learning more about their own culture, discovered meaning in the stories
of their own people that revitalised their Christian beliefs.
Some, whose traditions were the first to be destroyed, are reclaiming a tradition and reviving or
remodelling that tradition. There are, however, deeply opposing views in the troubled relationship
between Christianity and Aboriginal beliefsopposing views within Aboriginal groups, within nonAboriginal groups, and between Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal peoples.
While Sorry Day 2008 brought the long-awaited public recognition by government of past
mistakes, there is still conflict within the Christian Churches about how to best achieve
Reconciliation. There are those who want to revitalise Australian Christianity by an injection of
Aboriginal spirituality and others who call this a new form of colonisation. There are those who
say that Aboriginal peoples have the right to a distinct status and culture, which helps maintain
and strengthen the identity and spiritual and cultural practices of their communities.
There are so many questions that remain to be answered and a long journey still to be taken

In recent decades different religious traditions in Australia have had a growing appreciation of
Aboriginal spirituality and have become involved in supporting the movement for reconciliation.
The Catholic Church
In 1967 the Catholic Church and representatives of the Australian Council of Churches were
among the most prominent leaders of the campaign for the referendum to grant Aboriginal
Australians citizenship
Pope John Paul II visited Alice Springs in 1986 and stressed the need for justice for indigenous
Caritas, the Catholic aid agency, have a number of programs established to assist indigenous
The Catholic Bishops Conference established a commission concerned with relations between
Aboriginal communities and the Church
Pope Benedict has encouraged Australian leaders to address the causes of indigenous
peoples disadvantage
Aboriginal spiritual practices have been incorporated into services
The Anglican Church
The 1998 General Synod expressed support for Reconciliation
Provides funding for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ecumenical Commission
Anglicare and the Anglican Board of Missionaries formed the Anglican Reconciliation Working
Group which provides important services and support to Aboriginal communities
Various parishes are acknowledging traditional owners, developing plans for parishes on
sacred sites and are translating materials into local languages
Religious training for indigenous people has been provided in the Northern Territory
The Uniting Church
In 1994 the Uniting Church National Assembly made a formal apology to indigenous
Australians for the policies of the past
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress works with indigenous people to
promote healing and reparation
Long history of interaction with indigenous people
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and Muslim leaders have made a number of
statements supporting Reconciliation
High profile indigenous figures have endorsed Islam as supportive of indigenous people (eg
Anthony Mundine) over 1000 indigenous Australians are followers of Islam
The Jewish community has strongly supported the Week of Prayer for Aboriginal Reconciliation
The lead lawyer for the Mabo case was Jewish and represented the attitude of many Jews on
the issue of reconciliation
In 1998, Jewish groups voiced their support for the Wik decision
In 2006, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry affirmed the importance of Reconciliation,
called on the government to reduce disadvantages faced by indigenous people and called on
Jews to support national Reconciliation events

Resource: Living Religion 4th edition