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First Nations

Image: J Webb

Our Quaker testimonies call us to actively be in right relationship with all peoples. In harmony with our testimonies, Quakers are committed to bearing witness to ensure fairness and equality for First Nations People for so long as they choose this course. As Quakers we are learning how to uphold First Nations’ Peoples and their descendants in Australia, in our joint ongoing journey towards justice.

A testimony to social justice and racial equality has been part of the Quaker witness to the world since the inception of our Religious Society of Friends in Britain in the 17th century. In 1691 William Penn signed a treaty of friendship with the Delaware tribes of First Nations American Peoples, arranging for fair payments for lands taken. John Woolman, in 1756 persuaded Quakers in Philadelphia to pay for land stolen from the First Nations American Peoples by others.

In the 19th century, two British Friends, James Backhouse and George Washington Walker travelled through the Australian colonies and were forthright in their statements to influential figures in Australia and Britain concerning the cruelty and injustice meted to the Australian Aboriginal People, especially urging payment for land taken from them. (From paragraph 5.22 of this we can say; Australian Quaker life, faith and thought, 2003.)

Today, we long for and are working towards a reconciled Australia, believing that the coming into right relationship between First Peoples, the original custodians of the land, and other Australians is fundamental to an inclusive non-violent, Australian society.

Public Statements and Letters of Concern

Australian Quakers write to politicians expressing their support for First Nations Peoples and concern about Government action and policies. Read our most recent statements below, or follow this link for public statements from previous years

First Nations Peoples Concerns Plenary Session at Yearly Meeting 2020

There were 100 participants in this session. Dave Johnston, an Aboriginal archaeologist from the Australian National University, spoke about ‘Australia’s Greatest Unrealised Asset: Australia’s Indigenous Heritage’. He explained that the protection of heritage had been adopted in policies of Australian governments in conformity with international standards, but that over the past thirty years or so there has been a ‘dumbing down’ of the protection of Aboriginal culture, sites and language. This has resulted largely from the unwillingness of the Commonwealth Government to enforce national guidelines in the face of pressures from the States to bow to the pressures of mining companies. Legislative reform is essential, along with thorough auditing of heritage sites and customs.

Indigenous heritage is vital to the identity and wellbeing of Indigenous peoples, and is something of which all Australians should be proud. It is time to stop the current trends and to insist on ‘free, prior and informed consent’ by Indigenous people to any proposal to overrule heritage requirements. Australians can help this by seeking out their local elders and finding out about the heritage in their area, and supporting the conservation of those items.

Dave showed a short film – Millpost: The Quarry - about cooperation between a farming family in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region and Aboriginal elders to preserve a heritage site available on YouTube:  He drew attention to another film ‘Gollion Ochre Quarry’ that tells a similar story. 

Friends involvement in the reconciliation process

  • Contact our First Nations Peoples Concerns Committee to find out more about their work
  • Quaker Service Australia assists Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia to implement projects that are endorsed by and will benefit their local community. Funding is possible through the Quaker Service Australia Aboriginal Concerns Fund 
  • Vigil for Aboriginal Justice: 12.00pm - 1.00pm, every Monday on the steps of the GPO on the corner of Bourke and Elizabeth Streets, Melbourne, Victoria.

Friends resources for the reconciliation process

Backhouse Lectures related to First Nations Peoples Concerns

  • 2017 Backhouse Lecture, Reflections on the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum in the context of two Aboriginal life stories, was delivered by two Indigenous Australians: Friend David Carline, supported by Cheryl Buchanan. You can watch a video of the lecture, and read more about the lecture.
  • 2000 Lecture - To Learn A New Song: A Quaker Contribution Towards Real Reconciliation with the Earth and its Peoples - by Susannah Kay Brindle - MP3 available here (5.34MB)
  • 1991 Lecture - Loving the Distances Between: Racism, Culture and Spirituality - by David James and Jillian Wychel