'What do you say to a Federal Minister who is coming for a very short time and wants to know about IofC's Trustbuilding work with First Nations peoples?'
On 4 February 2022 the Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, Hon Ken Wyatt,and the local Federal MP, Dr Katie Allen visited Armagh, the Australia-Pacific Centre for Initiatives of Change. Mike Lowe, Lead Facilitator in Ethical Leadership and Trustbuilding reflects on the visit.
This question loomed large for the four of us: Margaret, Uncle Shane, Sarah and Mike, in the couple of days before the visit. We wished we could have had Mike Brown and Ron Lawler with us - people with the wisdom and experience of years walking this path - but made do with consulting them on video calls. We all thought of the many things we could say and share, the political angles, and wondered what questions he might have and what he might be wanting from the meeting. But in true IofC style, beyond all the words and the thinking, there was an openness to that mysterious quality of spirit and a willingness to be guided by it.
On the morning of the visit we were rushing around like headless chooks getting the place looking right, bringing in flowers, flags and indigenous artworks, straightening cushions, preparing gift bags.
And then we stopped... and dropped... into silence... feeling and connecting with the spirits and the energies of this place... recalling and connecting with the spirits of Aunty Marge Tucker and other ancestors, and inviting their presence and the presence of the Great Spirit. Uncle Shane had the thought to prepare us and the meeting space with the Didgeridoo. This helped take us into a really deep and grounded place and then it just felt such an obvious idea to offer our guests the same experience when they arrived.
So that is what we did. We welcomed our guests and took them straight into the ballroom, acknowledging country, paying our respects to elders past, present and emerging and then being cleansed and healed with the Didge. Then, as we got our teas and coffees, Marg Hepworth spoke a bit about the history of Armagh being given by the McKay family and Uncle Shane spoke about Aunty Marge Tucker and her connection with Armagh.
Uncle Shane Charles, Cultural Integrity Lead at IofCA playing the Didgeridoo in the presence of the Hon Ken Wyatt MP, Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians. 4 Feb 2022, Armagh
Up till this point the Minister hadn't spoken a word. When we sat down and Minister Wyatt finally spoke it was about the importance of Spirit and how lacking it was. 'So many people are just looking at their phones and don't know how to connect and talk to each other.' (Oh the irony!) He quoted the parable of the Good Samaritan and said - turning to Dr Katie Allen MP 'with apologies' - that many MPs in safe seats don't act like the Good Samaritan but instead act like the other two in the story who passed by the injured man without stopping to help. He spoke about the importance of honesty and said that because of honesty he doesn't make promises - because promises get broken. Instead, he makes commitments - a commitment to do whatever he can to resolve a problem while acknowledging that it's not all down to him.
As Uncle Shane said afterwards, 'I've never heard a politician talk like that.'
L-R Uncle Shane Charles, Dr Katie Allen MP, Hon Ken Wyatt MP and Margaret Hepworth, Executive Officer, IofCA. 4 February 2022, Armagh.
We were able to share the work of IofC in supporting truth telling and truth hearing, not only in Melbourne but around the country, about Turruk, our cultural intelligence immersive workshop series, Uncle Shane's Cultural Residency, and the upcoming visit of Thomas Mayor.
Dr Katie Allen MP spoke about the work the Minister has done behind the scenes, working across Federal and State administrations, to ensure that efforts to 'bridge the gap' on indigenous wellbeing doesn't fall in the gap between State and Federal responsibilities. She described this work as groundbreaking and laying foundations for solid programs co-designed and managed by indigenous people.
The visit was all too short, but we had the sense that it is the start of a relationship based on shared values and a shared respect for the importance of Spirit.