Honouring First Nations spirituality through the referendum

Published in Australian Ageing Agenda digital edition

by Rachael Wass, CEO of Meaningful Ageing Australia

Australia’s journey towards inclusivity and reconciliation, marked by efforts such as First Nations recognition in the Constitution and The Voice to Parliament, must also encompass the critical aspect of recognising and respecting First Nations spirituality, writes Rachael Wass.

This entails acknowledging the profound spiritual and cultural significance of First Nations people’s connection to the land and sovereignty, a crucial step towards rectifying historical injustices and fostering a more inclusive nation.

While I do not claim to speak on behalf of First Nations people, my First Nations friends and researchers have shared with me their spirituality is deeply entrenched in the land and is an integral facet of their culture, extending far beyond mere ownership.

For thousands of years, our First Nations people have maintained a spiritual bond with the land and its ecosystems, passed down through generations. This understanding of sovereignty, rooted in a spiritual connection to the land, challenges conventional perceptions.

Australia’s history bears the weight of injustices against First Nations people – including land dispossession, forced child removals, and disregard for their spiritual values. A referendum to recognise and respect their spirituality is a reconciliatory endeavour and an opportunity to educate the broader population about the significance of spirituality beyond religious confines.

As author, Paul Callaghan says in his book, The Dreaming Path: Indigenous Thinking to Change Your Life, “The Dreaming Path has always been there, but in the modern-day world, it can be hard to find. There are so many demands on us – family, health, bills, a mortgage, a career – that it can be hard to remember what’s most important: you. It’s time to reconnect with your story.”

I argue it’s time to reconnect with all our collective story at this time of the referendum.

Critics who argue against the referendum as divisive or unnecessary must recognise that it is about acknowledging historical injustices and progressing towards a more harmonious future. By respecting First Nations spirituality, Australia can work towards a shared identity that embraces the diverse cultures within the nation.

In recent years, momentum has been growing, driven by awareness and initiatives like the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for constitutional reform and a First Nations Voice to Parliament. Though the path to a successful referendum may be challenging, it is an essential journey for Australia to confront its past and build a fairer, more inclusive society.

The referendum carries immense moral significance. It presents an opportunity for all Australians to come together, honour the profound connection between First Nations people and the land, and take a meaningful step towards reconciliation. By doing so, Australia can construct a more unified and harmonious nation – one that reveres the spiritual and cultural diversity that has shaped it for millennia.

Rachael Wass is chief executive officer of Meaningful Ageing Australia, the national peak body for the spiritual care and emotional wellbeing of aged care recipients