On the weekend of 24-25 September Whitley College hosted a conference called Constitutions and Treaties: Law, Justice, Spirituality – these are notes from session 6 of 9. We acknowledge that this gathering, listening and learning occurred of the land of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nations and offer our respects to their elders past and present, and all visiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island visitors present.


“Wrongs to Rights”

i ways we talk about sovereignty

ii Treaty

iii acts of resistance

iv identity of the church



Ask what does it mean for the identity of the church to recognise First People? Always about wealth: land, labour, wealth… when talking of treaty/constitutions always become justifying narratives. We cannot ignore the material component.

 Sovereignty? People aren’t sure about what the word means.

Confuses meaning when indigenous people are asking for it.

Rights and claims continuously negotiated e.g. human rights (allows some limits/accountability)

Four themes:

i ‘external’ or ‘internal’ authority. Boats vs. states/federal government.

ii power of institutions or powers of people

iii be sorted out legally or negotiated politically e.g. State of Victoria negotiating a Treaty.

iv sovereignty is capable of being shared > not absolute (Pakeha and Maori)


  1. separate and independent nation
  2. starting point to achieve rights and social inclusion
  3. authority inherent in them as individuals and as a people


Assertion: sovereignty reframing ongoing negotiating of claims in the community > nature of our settlement and how they live here.

Not disadvantage or reparations but ‘ancestral occupation’.  Not a gift of ours to give.

Recognises First People are a people with their own culture, land, language… have inherent rights.  Opens up a new negotiation for settlement.




‘shared house’ analogy… if you move in to a share house together there are rules – have to pay your share of rent, food, utilities… if some random moves in and uses everything. Eventually someone will say, we were here first – pay the board or move out.  There is a need to recognise our sovereignty.



Narrative of explanation (public ideology that justifies current system e.g. invisible). Can’t critique publicly. Another narrative told in private places.

Did Jesus tell stories in public areas – in ways that didn’t threaten powers (used language and metaphors they didn’t understand) but reaches ‘those with ears to hear’. [hidden transcript]

Worth doing things people don’t understand – not taken seriously by Government but gives hope to those in the know.

What are you trying to fit into?




i   church needs to weigh in on issue of sovereignty

ii   church came in with the invaders – there is an existing sacred relationship with the land (invite us to share that story)

iii   church needs to confront issues of land and reparation – material reparation (Zacharius)

iv   recognition challenges ideas of how we speak of faith and salvation.  Creation/sinned message makes indigenous relationship to land (sinful) need salvation/assimilation of this idea into church à trusted. Make it personal…

How does recognition of indigenous people alter my understanding of gospels?

Understand gospels in relation to /context of existing indigenous relationship to land not politicising the gospels with a liberation theology that retrospectively tries to make sense of that, this is not “special interest group theology” (black, feminist, etc.)

v   churches places within or on invading community is to be interpreted theologically .

vi   what does this mean for the structures of church and relationships?

vii   still a need to hear and honour history as a foundation for present and future relationships… own/confess/change it…