Indigenous Spirituality


The Rainbow Spirit in Creation Jasmine Corowa 2000

When I mention to friends that I am writing about how Australians regard the land, many assume that I draw heavily on indigenous art and spirituality.

I would like this to be the case, but lack the cultural heritage, and traditional wisdom and knowledge to be an authoritative commentator on such matters. With my grounding in a western Christian tradition, I’m also sensitive to the potential for ‘colonisation’ of indigenous spirituality.

I recognise, however, the richness of indigenous spirituality which, as well as my own faith tradition, is now shaping my relationship with Land.

I am therefore keen to encourage constructive dialogue between the two traditions in a way that extends understanding. I am attracted, for example, by the incarnational insights of Rainbow Spirit theology: ‘Christ is in our camp, in our land, and is a part of our culture’ as it provides me with a new way to explore my ‘connectedness’ with the environment.

This leads me to regard indigenous spirituality as a generous gift, represented in the metaphorical Art Gallery through five exhibits.

The first exhibit is huge – rock art, bark paintings, ceremonies, traditional and modern indigenous paintings, dancing, singing, the Dreamtime, the wisdom of elders, stories, Dadirri, Rainbow Spirit theology. No wonder I’m asked how about indigenous spirituality, but I find it a bit overwhelming; I need time to reflect on and appreciate the insights that these artworks provide.

The second explores parallels between the response of indigenous Australians to European settlement/occupation/invasion and the resistance of landowners to mining companies exploring for, and extracting, CSG. In doing so, I discern spiritual connections and hear the voice of Land asking: do you regard mining CSG as acceptable settlement and economic development, unwelcome occupation, or de-facto invasion? How I answer this question reflects how I regard Land.

The next exhibit suggests indigenous spirituality can help disentangle links between ideology and national interest, links epitomised by comments by the explorer Stuart who, in planting a Union Jack in what he thought was the centre of Australia, said

We then gave three hearty cheers for the flag, the emblem of civil and religious liberty, and may it be a sign to the natives that the dawn of liberty, civilisation and Christianity is about to break upon them.

How will history, I wonder, judge the rhetoric we use today to legitimise our natural resource development policies? Indigenous spirituality provides a different template against which to assess these policies, which have their genesis in a western tradition.

The fourth exhibit is Haynes’ record of the reaction of Frank Gurrmanamana from Gidjingali country on his first visit to Canberra, who saw

a land empty of religious affiliation; there were no wells, no names of totemic ancestors, no immutable links between land, people and the rest of the natural and supernatural worlds. Here was just a ‘tabula rasa’ cauterised of meaning … ‘this country bin lose ‘im Dreaming’.

She puts this in the context of Terra Nullius where ‘the land cries out for European settlers to give it identity, meaning and legitimacy’. (Roslynn Haynes, Seeking the Centre, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp 32, 33).

It is with a degree of relief that I then encounter the last exhibit, ‘Milky Way Dreaming’. It reminds me that Land and humanity coexist beneath the same stars that rotate majestically above their heads, a cosmic interconnectedness that resonates with light and joy and points towards the mystery of life.

“Milky Way Dreaming”, Winston Walford, 2013.

#indigenousspirituality #ChrisDalton #JasmineCorowa #RainbowSpirit

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