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Commemorating National Reconciliation Week

26 May 2017

Commemorating National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week (NRW) celebrates achievements in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation, with hundreds of events held nationwide. Held annually from 27 May to 3 June, NRW is bookended by important milestones: the 1967 referendum and the Mabo decision. In 2017, these milestones mark significant anniversaries: 50 years since the 1967 referendum, and 25 years since the Mabo decision.

We spoke to Lucy Davis, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Engagement Coordinator for The Salvation Army, about what reconciliation week means to her and why it’s important for the Army.

What does National Reconciliation Week mean to you?

National Reconciliation Week is in some ways about hope against hope. In setting up the reconciliation process in 1991, (former Prime Minister) Bob Hawke lamented that he could not deliver land rights or a treaty. But in setting up reconciliation, Australia skipped the important step of “truth.” Truth-telling is the only path to reconciling. In some ways National Reconciliation Week is an annual reminder of the need for truth-telling about Australia's black past. I believe it is a key time to acknowledge the First Nations people of this land and gain an understanding of our shared history, whether it be good or bad.

Why is National Reconciliation Week important for Australia?

NRW is important for the whole nation because Australia very rarely speaks about, and privileges, the place of Aboriginal people in its narrative. For years the history of Aboriginal Australia has always been a history only shared and told by one half of Australia when it’s actually a shared history both for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia.

Reconciliation week should bring Australians together to discuss and reflect on our relationships and shared achievements. It should also be a time when we explore difficult topics, particularly in the areas of health, education, employment and housing. Once we can openly discuss these issues, reconciliation will follow.

What is the theme of NRW for 2017?

This year’s themes of National Reconciliation Week are crucial dates in Australia’s history – the 1967 Referendum and the Mabo decision. The 1967 Referendum was a pinnacle for Aboriginal people as it gave them a voice, but it also bought change to the legal standing of Australian law, as it was the first time the constitution of Australia had been amended. I think it’s quite interesting that a similar conversation in Australia is occurring again – do we change the constitution or do we leave it?

The Mabo decision was a High Court case that abolished terra-nullius (empty land – or land that belongs to nobody) and ruled that Australia had been occupied prior to European settlement. This decision altered and changed the foundation of Australian law. This brought great hope and recognition to Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples. It meant that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders now existed in Australian law and they could now have an opportunity to gain native title ownership of their traditional country.

It’s important for all Australians to learn and reflect on our shared history. It’s important that we discuss and learn from past practices. We can only move forward together if we accept and acknowledge our shared history.     

How is The Salvation Army involved in reconciliation?

The Salvation Army has made a formal commitment to reconciliation through our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). This is a constantly evolving plan that confirms The Salvation Army’s commitment to working with First Nations Australians. The RAP is an important way for The Salvation Army to commit to activities which help address the gap between non-Indigenous Australians and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is crucial to us as it aims to build strong relationships and respect between non-indigenous people and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander peoples. The RAP is about more than just words and mission statements; it paves the way for tangible social change.

The Salvation Army Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet and work and pay our respect to Elders past, present and future.

We value and include people of all cultures, languages, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and intersex status. We are committed to providing programs that are fully inclusive. We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of people of all ages, particularly children.

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The Salvation Army is an international movement. Our mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name with love and without discrimination.

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