Religions for Peace Australia is currently in the throes of forming an Interreligous Council of Australia. It is the intention of Religions for Peace Australia to engage respectfully for the presence of First Nations on this Inter-religious Council.
The cornerstone of our work is the dialogue between religious people at the local level. The structure for this is provided through the establishment of Inter-religious Councils. Interreligious Councils (IRCs) are the primary mechanism we use to bring religions together in 6 regions and 90 countries. The leaders of Interreligious Councils are representatives of religious communities that mobilise believers of all faith traditions to work together. Their initiatives address immediate needs, but they also establish a foundation of trust and respect that can be built upon for many years to come.
Religions for Peace Australia is currently engaged in the task of forming an Interreligious Council of Australia. It is the intention of Religions for Peace Australia to engage respectfully with First Nations and invite participation in the Interreligious Council. We evidence our intentions through our recent national activities, including invitation to Senator Patrick Dodson, who delivered the World Interfaith Harmony Week lecture in 2021.
At the Annual General Meeting of Religions for Peace Australia (6 June 2021), Indigenous Woman Dr Anne Patel-Gray gave one talk about her work Walk Alongside to Build Religious Inclusivity and Acceptance and – as a Christian theologian and Doctor of Theology – told that Australia is not longer exclusively a Christian country but is now a multicultural and multifaith nation.
The inclusion of First Nations in our national Inter-religious council is a matter that takes time. These are not matters that can be hurried nor organised with a simple phone call. Respect is necessary, and we must meet First Nations on their own ground.
Religions for Peace Australia is led by practitioners from the worlds religions with a breadth of spiritual experience and wisdom: respect is our choice and preference. Too many have gone to First Nations and told them what-hey about their spirituality, their law, and what is sacred, not sacred. It is not for the settlers, nor the immigrants to lecture to First Nations about their culture and law – that which is over 60,000 years old. There is a need to acknowledge history, traditional law and customs, and respect the many cultures that make up this land we call Australia.
26 January is emerging as a day of division.
On the one hand, many celebrate and have public breakfasts, citizenship ceremonies and proclaim the splendour of Australia. This is welcome and beneficial to all Australians. Families gather and share a meal and activities together. This is nation-building.
On the other hand, there are dawn smoking ceremonies, indigenous circles and dance, and proclamation that Australia Always was – Always will be country filled with indigenous law, indigenous culture, a country of the Dreaming.
Now we come to address the celebration named Australia Day, also known as Invasion Day, and for some, Day of Mourning. 26 January is a day that marks a substantial amount of history within this nation. It represents the beginning of colonisation under British rule within this country. However, it also emancipates the voices of Indigenous Australians – a day of protest, an opportunity to reaffirm their survival and raise awareness to the injustices that First Peoples are confronted with. Undoubtedly the consequences of colonisation still exist – which is why it is important to be sensitive to the different meanings and interpretations of this day across Australia.
While it’s important to acknowledge Australia’s national achievements and celebrate national pride, it is equally important to empathise and understand the post-colonial trauma that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continue to experience and the negative connotations associated with this day.
It is our duty to build greater harmony and as a nation we must reflect and let the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders be heard.
It is our task as Religions for Peace Australia to engage First Nations with respect for their culture and law, and practice deep listening. It is our duty to take time, remember the Divine spark that is in every heart, and to walk respectfully with First Nations representatives into the future of our nation, and the future of our Inter-religious Council of Australia.