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Because of her

Because of her

Because of her

11 July 2018

This year's NAIDOC week honours the role of women in the movement towards equity for Australia's indigenous people.

By Nari McGifford

At the end of a long week, at the end of what has been a long couple of months, I leave my office and head to my car.

As the sun sets and darkness falls, I see a woman from our community standing in the middle of the road as a bus approaches. She is staggering and seems unsure what to do.

In the end, she lies down in the middle of the road. Fortunately, the bus slows and navigates around her, but it doesn’t stop. Neither do the next couple of cars. A small group of people gathered nearby, who have been watching proceedings, return to their conversations and their cigarettes.

I take a deep breath, knowing my plans of relaxing with the kids and a movie this evening have just been bumped. I am grateful when a driver stops and helps me move the woman off the road.

Then I’m faced with a dilemma – what do I do next? You see, this woman is known in our community. She is indigenous, homeless and more often than not intoxicated. She is usually ignored, laughed at, mocked, judged or taken advantage of. Sometimes there are people who will look after her when she can no longer take care of herself, but not tonight.

I have the option of the police or the ambulance. Sadly, I choose the police. As I sit with this woman, concerned that if I leave she may wander back onto the road – or as often happens, people will take advantage of her inebriated state – we traverse the many emotions of a person who has had too much to drink.

As I sit with her, with little option but to listen, I am given a glimpse into the life of a person who has experienced a life very different to my own. For more than 40 years she has been homeless, drifting around the community. It’s in this moment I am reminded again that, while I’ve worked hard and made some wise choices, I’ve had it easy compared to many others simply because of where and when I was born and to whom.

In 2017, there was a gathering of the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent island peoples, at the National Constitutional Convention at Uluru.

The convention penned the Uluru Statement from the Heart (referendumcouncil.org.au/event/ uluru-statement-from-the-heart). Among other things, it says: “Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.”

It is in these moments that I pray and petition God for “Kingdom Now!” I plead for the vision of Revelation 7: “Great multitudes that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. In loud voices they cry out ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’.”

I follow this with the promise of God: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (Revelation 7:16-17) But praying and petitioning is not enough. The theme of NAIDOC Week (8-15 July) is: “Because of her, we can!”

It celebrates the role that women have played – and continue to play – as significant role models at community, local, state and national levels. As I’ve reflected on the hour I sat waiting with this woman, I’ve been challenged.

I’m in a fortunate situation where I have many choices. Because of her, I can:

• Turn away and hope someone else will stop.

• Judge her for drinking too much alcohol.

• Blame government, missionaries and colonialists who have gone before.

Or

• I can reach out and care.

• I can learn to (really) listen and to (really) hear.

• I can contribute to reconciliation and walk in unity.

At the conclusion of the Uluru Statement there is an invitation: “We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

Because of her, I choose to walk in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. Will you join this movement too?

Captain Nari McGifford is the Corps Officer at Alice Springs.

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