Practical Reconciliation in Schools: Moving from obligation to action
How Suncoast Christian College is moving from mere obligation to practical, heart choice reconciliation.
At Suncoast, we take the Indigenous requirements inherent in the Australian Curriculum as a starting point in reconciliation. With Jesus Christ as our example, we are moving from mere obligation to practical and purposeful ways to inspire students to make a heart choice – to stand for practical reconciliation.
Practical Reconciliation = Faith in Action
As a community, we are deeply committed to the belief that the Christian faith is not simply a code of behaviour that one must follow in order to obtain Gods favour, it runs far deeper than that. A central idea of our faith is that we are made right before God not by our good works, but by grace through faith. We acknowledge that through God’s love and sacrifice and the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we, imperfect people, are reconciled to God.
We also understand that in response to what God has done for us, we are compelled to live a life that reflects an appropriate response that is both grateful and inspired. At the heart of our faith are pivotal truths that provide us with a foundation for how we are to live, and this way of living has a radical impact on how we interact with both the planet and its people.
With God’s example in mind, we strive for reconciliation with First Nations people. We do this not because we are looking to appease God with our good works; instead, we are pleased to follow his lead in radically rethinking how we pursue reconciliation.
Jesus – Reconciliation Personified
Throughout history, living a radically different life has led Christians to make incredible contributions to the communities they have been a part of (Dickson et al., 2018). With a deep sense of love and compassion, Jesus personally responded to people on the margins of society. Within the New Testament (which documents the life of Jesus) the phrase, Jesus was ‘moved with compassion‘ appears twelve times.
Significantly the original meaning of that phrase translates as; he ‘was viscerally moved’. The Greek word ‘splagchnizomi’ refers to the fact that it is felt deeply in the gut or to the core of ones being. (Strong’s Concordance, 2020). In other words, Jesus was so profoundly impacted by suffering that it compelled him to act. As followers of Jesus, it is our desire; therefore, to likewise be moved with compassion for the marginalised. It is this philosophical and moral stance from which our College Community approaches reconciliation.
“Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.”
Matthew 9: 35-36 (New Testament)
This is what has inspired our response to the reconciliation movement in our community on the Sunshine Coast. A response that causes us to want to make a radical difference in the here and now for people who have immense value and worth and who have so much to each us about being good stewards of God’s creation.
Perhaps, one of the most pressing matters facing communities both at home and abroad is the acknowledgement and recognition of First Nations people. We are aware that some wonderful steps have been taken toward this kind of practical reconciliation; however, there is still so much work to be done. But what practical actions can school communities undertake to build upon the progress made in the reconciliation movement of recent years?
While reconciliation needs to be taught in the classroom, as part of the cross-curriculum priorities in the Australian curriculum, communities and teachers must lead by example and importantly – equip and empower young people to choose to act. The key for Suncoast has been the realisation that reconciliation was modelled for us by Jesus Christ, and that we need to exemplify that and educate our students to make heart choice.
Throughout our reconciliation journey, we have purposefully invited students to become active participants, and we have witnessed the increasing confidence with which they have embraced the vision. A practical example has been the creation of our Reconciliation Space & Yarning Circle, where every person in our community (students, teachers and staff) set in place a rock or piece of tile – representing an active choice to play a role in reconciliation.
A vibrant reconciliation culture has begun to pay incredible dividends in our community because it builds on the idea that others come first. Perhaps as important as the actions themselves, is the attitude that accompanies this willingness to participate in service. It is an attitude that reflects humility, respects culture and dares to add to the lives of others with no thought of payment in return.
Each year the number of students who nominate to join our local and international mission trips overwhelms us; more students volunteer than we can practically accommodate. It is also thrilling to witness how engaged our primary and middle years by acts of service. Increasingly, our students seek to serve; the elderly, the environment and those in our local community who are marginalised and suffering. As we invite students to be a part of this response, it is intriguing to see the sense of satisfaction and fulfilment that can rise-up them.
What did Reconciliation Week 2020 look like?
Teaching & Learning with the Reconciliation Rope
Our approach to practical reconciliation via Reconciliation Week 2020 was grounded in three words/concepts we wanted our students to reflect and act upon – Acknowledgement, Sorry and Reconciliation.
Typically, we would gather our entire community to yarn about reconciliation, yet with COVID-19 gatherings were not possible. In lieu, we created a video with local Gubbi Gubbi/ Kabi Kabi man, Kerry Neil, our two Indigenous student leaders, Abbey Green and Conrad Atkins. Hosted by Tumanaako Moetaua, this video documented conversations around Acknowledgement, Sorry and Reconciliation – explained from a First Nations’ perspective and broadcast to students and staff during morning home classes.
What is the Reconciliation Rope?
A length of rope was attached to a long fence rail on the Suncoast Campus. Following the video presentation during home class, students gathered and discussed the meaning of the words Acknowledgement, Sorry and Reconciliation, and were encouraged to choose a word to act on.
The action was simple but involved intentional choice. As a representation of their commitment to personal or community action of acknowledgement, sorry or reconciliation, students took a piece of fabric and tied it to the rope.
The piece of fabric represented the comprehension of their word and commitment to pursue it. The significance of students’ symbolic, yet active commitment to reconciliation was visibly evident by days-end – with hundreds of gold, black and red fabric pieces adorning the rope. Encouraging and very exciting!
The Steps in The Process
1. Students watch the video in home class
2. Come to the rope
3. Gather in small groups and listen to one of the team speak
4. Choose a word for the fabric to symbolise
5. Select a piece of fabric in the colours of either the Torres Strait Island or Aboriginal Flag.
The Oxford Online Dictionary (2020) refers to acknowledgement as recognising the existence of something and/ or expressing thanks.
An Acknowledgement of Country is meant to recognise and honour the First Nations people of a particular area and to give thanks to their elders past present and future for custodianship of the land on which we all live. It is given by someone who is not from First Nations people of the area. By contrast, a Welcome to Country is given by the local First Nations people.
We explained this to students to build their understandings of acknowledgement as a way of recognising those people who have gone before us. It can be the process of honouring our ancestors, our parents, our grandparents.
We strived to contextualise the concept for different age groups, for instance with younger students, we focused on acknowledgement as gratefulness, giving the example that the Gubbi Gubbi/ Kabi Kabi people used to “play here” and we want to say thank you for letting us play here too.
Personal: Students could choose a piece of fabric that symbolised them acknowledging someone significant in their life. As they tied the fabric onto the rope they were asked to think about why they were grateful and recognising that person.
Community: Students could also tie a piece of fabric as an Acknowledgement of Country, recognising our local Gubbi Gubbi/ Kabi Kabi people, their elders past, present and future, and their custodianship of the land.
On May 26th, 1998, the first National Sorry Day was held in Australia (Reconciliation Australia, 2020). This year one of our Indigenous Leaders, Conrad Atkins, wanted us to address National Sorry Day. This worked well as our Reconciliation Day fell on May 26th National Sorry Day.
The concept of sorry is a controversial one in Australian society. People are divided as to whether current generations should have to say sorry for the actions of people in the past. We discussed this with the students. Some of our Senior students expressed this viewpoint and we reminded them of the importance of having these conversations and using moments such as reconciliation day to reflect on their opinions and consider the views of others. We encouraged these students to think of sorry as being more than just repentance for a personal action, but also a concept that encompasses compassion and sympathy “I’m sorry this happened to you because it is awful”.
Students who wanted to act on the concept of ‘sorry’ could choose to tie a piece of fabric to signify a personal or national sorry:
Personal: tie a piece of fabric on the rope that represented them apologising to someone or for something.
National: tie a piece of fabric on the rope that represents you being part of the National Sorry Day apology.
Australia has a long history of reconciliation at a personal level between individuals who over time have held mutually respectful relationship as important, however, a great deal of work still needs to be done in this space (Council for Reconciliation Australia, 2016).
For students, reconciliation can be a more abstract concept to take hold of. Reconciliation is defined as ”… an end to a disagreement or conflict … the start of a good relationship again… the process of making it possible for two different ideas, facts, etc. to exist together…” (Online Dictionary, 2020). Drawing on this definition, we explained reconciliation as a way of rebuilding relationship regardless of difference.
To illustrate we told a story that students could relate to:
If I hurt my friend by pushing them into the garden, to say sorry is appropriate, but our relationship is probably not ok. My friend may not feel safe with me.
To reconcile with my friend, I need to move beyond the apology and into rebuilding of a new and respectful relationship. This will take time.
In much the same way, reconciliation in Australia is about re-building the relationship with First Nations people who have been hurt in the past. Reconciliation is about celebrating difference and learning to live together in mutually respectful ways.
Students were asked to tie a piece of fabric to signify either an act of personal or community reconciliation:
Personal: tie a piece of fabric onto the rope that represents a person you need to reconcile with, and a commitment to the journey of reconciliation with them over time.
Community: Alternatively, tie a piece of fabric that symbolises your commitment to being part of the reconciliation journey now and in the future of Australia.
In a year where the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement‘ found significant momentum, it has been important for communities like schools to speak to and act in this complicated space. While we are sure that our approach is not perfect, we hope to inspire other schools to join this important and needed cause. Particularly with honest discussion and practical actions supported by symbolic events that challenge and engage students in reconciliation.
National Sorry Day 2020 Image Gallery
Dickson, J., Smart, S., Toh, J (2018). For the love of God. Centre for Public Christianity.
Council for Reconciliation Australia (2016). The state of reconciliation in Australia. Our history, our story, our future. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/The-State-of-Reconciliation-report_FULL_WR.pdf
Oxford Online Dictionary (2020a). Acknowledgement. Retrieved fromhttps://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/acknowledgement
Oxford Online Dictionary (2020b). Reconciliation. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/reconciliation
Reconciliation Australia (2020). National Sorry Day 2020. Retrieved from https://www.reconciliation.org.au/national-sorry-day-2020/
Strong’s Concordance (2020). 4697. Splagchnizomai. Retrieved from https://biblehub.com/strongs/greek/4697.htm)