I figure in light of the possibilities of new media, I should publish my own news story. Although it is no longer relevant to the time it was written for (coinciding with Reconciliation Week), the actual article itself is as relevant as ever.
Meditations on Meaning
Words are realities. They exist because the meanings they represent exist.
27th May marked the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, credited by some as being the beginning of the reconciliation process in Australia. As Reconciliation Week is celebrated around the country, it seems a good time to examine just exactly what that word means.
The Greater Oxford Dictionary defines reconciliation as this:
- The act of reconciling persons or the result of this; the fact of being reconciled,
- Reunion of a person to a church,
- The purification, or restoration to sacred uses of a church, etc, after desecration or pollution, and,
- a) The action of bringing to agreement, concord or harmony, b) (Accountancy) The action or practice of rendering one account consistent with another by balancing discrepancies; reconciliation statement, a statement of account where discrepancies are adjusted.
The choice of word is no accident. We could have used repatriation or reparation; yet while these are aspects of the process, neither of these words adequately expresses the complexity of what needs to be done, the fundamental shift in consciousness. Words are actions, after all, even if those actions are intangible.
One of the fundamental conflicts that arose between Indigenous and non-Indigenous realities originally was the definition of sacred – or rather, how that definition was applied – and it remains at the heart of the how, now, of our reconciling.
It is clear that we, the usurpers, did the lion’s share of harm in the situation, and it is up to us to offer such actions as repatriation and reparation, in the form of land rights and other compensation. People can concretely grasp these concepts, whether they agree with them or not, and they are the most obvious and easy steps along the way. What is not easily understood is the spiritual significance of these acts – the acknowledgement of what was held sacred, of what was desecrated; a people, a land – yet that knowledge is precisely what is needed to achieve true reconciliation.
The third usage in the definition above shows one clear path towards an understanding – note the use of the word etc – it applies to any place that may be used for sacred purposes. It offers an approach that allows us to be reconciled (as in definition 1). The largesse of the meaning offers us a way to repair, to dig down deep into Country, to restore it way down where we’ve ripped it up, to become unified in our touching and understanding of how this land exists and how we, as a people, may exist upon it.
The second definition reveals the fundamental reality of what ‘land rights’ means – for all of us. What if this land were our church, the place where our spirits touched the earth and sky in communion, in union? What if we allowed that to be a sacred place, a place of the holy? What if we returned?
We, as whitefellas, largely define our sense of fairness by a sense of possession. We have ledgers of who owns what, and who worked for it, but the culpable knowledge of thievery slimes around underneath these righteous intentions; we present a fraudulent set of books for the accountants of our conscience. What if we were to look at the real ledgers? What discrepancies might we discover, and – how could we reconcile them?
Reconciliation in action extends beyond an apology. It moves beyond a referendum. It relies on an expansion of our understanding of what is sacred, or how the sacred might exist or be revered. Only then will the books be balanced again. If we were to see Country – to feel it, to smell it, to live it, to dream it – we would have our clearest path forward.