Sunday, March 29, 2009

NUC and Environment Centre "Pay The Rent" to Larrakia Nation

This morning was a special event was held at Nightcliff Uniting Church.
About 15 years ago members of the Nightcliff Uniting Church Congregation decided that in the spirit of 'Reconciliation' and the 'Uniting Church Covenanting movement' they should acknowledge the Traditional Indigenous Owners.
A recent decision by the Environment Centre NT means there are now Two Organizations in Darwin who will make regular payments as "rent" to the Larrakia Nation.

After a rousing Sermon by Rev. Dr. Lee Levett-Olson, Principal of Nungalinya College, a ceremony was held in a Shady spot outside the Church, where both Nightclif Uniting Church and The Environment Centre NT "Paid the Rent" to Larrakia Nation representative Donna Jackson at the symbolic occasion.

Both organizations consider paying a form of "Rent" to be a symbolic gesture of recognition and respect for the Larrakia People as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land that they occupy.

(Lee calls the people to gather)

During the Worship service Lee gave a sermon entitled "Law in our Hearts" making a great example of how both Indigenous People and Balanda are dismayed by the lack of order in each other's society. Referring to a divine law that predates our religious institutions and is written on the Hearts of all people of God. He cited the inconsistencies that cause each to wonder where is the "Law" in the other's customs.

Law in our Hearts
(Excerpt: Rev. Dr. Lee Levett-Olson Lent Sermon 29 March 2009)
"One of the great tragedies of the Top End is the way in which so many Indigenous and non-Indigenous people misunderstand each other’s culture. Both groups are proud of their own traditions; both believe their social order is grounded in law; both see that law as being connected to divine origins which give them a unique place in creation: and each group acts as though the other had no real law at all.

Indigenous people look at the white legal system – its strange clothes, incomprehensible words, adversarial approach, and lethal forms of ongoing punishment – and ask what many white voices also ask, ‘Where is the justice?’

They look at governments that change rules from one season to the next, and see that those who make the rules are not bound by them, and ask what many white voices also ask, ‘Where is the law?’

They look at young people who show no respect for elders, at a society so obsessed with racing to riches that it has no time for history, at a world facing destruction because no one cares about creation, and ask what many white voices also ask, ‘Where is the tradition?’

They look at the way land is bought and sold, and the poor are evicted, and fencelines change, and underground resources are plundered, and profits go to those far away, and the sick and the elderly are taken from their families, and ask what many white voices also ask, ‘Where is the culture?’

These are good and valid questions, and they deserve an answer – but because no answer we give

changes anything, Indigenous people conclude, ‘Balanda got no law’.
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White Australians look at Indigenous communities – at houses breaking down, at the violence and despair, at the dirt and the dogs, the drinking and drugs, at children missing school and illiterate parents – and ask, in racist contempt or helpless compassion, ‘Where is the culture?’

We look without knowing the language; we look without caring for history; we look in a hurry, with no time to listen; we look from outside, blind to our blinkers. So we learn nothing about ancient systems of governance and trade recorded in song and in knowledge-objects thousands of years before Moses’ stone codes. We learn nothing about social order built on sustainable environments, and health-promoting practices that made death from preventable illness almost unknown.

We learn nothing, but we label: we call them ‘hunter gatherers’, ‘primitives’, ‘pre-history people’. We label their kinship systems confusing and inflexible; their ancient rules mere ‘customs’; their deep knowledge of health and environment ‘folklore’; and their spirituality ‘superstition’. And because we lack the tools to learn better, white Australians conclude, ‘Indigenous people have no law.’..."
"...We would all become People of Law – not external codes or expendable justice, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, but grounded in history, cherished in spirituality, kept alive in ceremony, recorded deep in culture:..."
"...We are called to be People of Law, and if we take up that call, we will begin to see our kinship – Indigenous and white, migrant and First Peoples, stewards of land and those who come later – all of us together, People of Law. Deeper than any culture, challenging all societies, present in each of us, written on our hearts: God’s eternal Rom – shalom for all creation."

(Fiona, a member of the original 'Rent Paying' Congregation speaks about what motivated the group to formalize their acknowledgment of The Larrakia People)

(Ian O'Reilly recounts the History and formulation of the Rent Paying policy.)

Excerpt From Ian's speach:

Paying The Rent
(Ian O'Reilly 29.03.09)

"About 15 years ago (I’m not exactly sure when), a Congregational meeting of NUC agreed to ‘pay the rent’ in perpetuity. It took a few years for the resolution to be implemented, because at the time the Larakia Nation was not an incorporated body, and we had to wait for this to occur before we could put our desire into practice. Today’s ceremony recognizes this small, historic moment..."

"...several sources of inspiration for our action. Another was Midnight Oil, whose song ‘Beds Are Burning’ goes:

The time has come to say fair’s fair
To pay the rent now, to pay our share.
The time has come, a fact’s a fact,
It belongs to them, let’s give it back.’

Nightcliff Uniting Church has maintained our desire to be seen to be a community committed to justice and reconciliation for Indigenous Australians. The action is small and the amount tokenistic, but it is symbolic of our recognition of historical and current injustice, and it has been costly for us because we are a small organization that struggles to meet our financial commitments. We have not been able to rise to the challenge of the second half of the song verse, but we do ‘pay the rent’. We choose not to ‘sleep while our beds are burning’. Thankyou Larakia people for your recognition of this today."

Congregation present "Rent" declaration posters to Larrakia Elders

Some of the Flags painted by members of the NUC congregation, Young and Old.

Dr. Stuart Blanch of the Environment Centre Pay's The Rent

Larrakia Elders receive Rent Posters

NUC Band plays "Walkin' Down The Road" (Robin Mann 1978 with permission)

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