Maria’s passion to build understanding and engagement
In the months leading up to NAIDOC Week 2022, Maria – The Salvation Army’s first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Coordinator for the South Australia/Northern Territory Division – participated in a 13-day ‘cultural mission immersion experience’. The experience is designed to help 12 emerging Salvation Army leaders gain deeper insight into, and understanding of, Australia’s First Nations peoples.
The tour in late April to early May visited Salvos’ churches, programs and services in Darwin, Katherine and Alice Springs. It also included connection with local Elders, visits to culturally significant sites, prayer walks, cultural training and more.
For Maria, it not only offered the chance to interact with the emerging leaders, but also an opportunity to get to know a wide range of Salvos services in her area of responsibility – as she was just a year into the role.
She says: “It was an eye-opener for me. It gave me a better idea of the amazing programs The Salvation Army runs in the Northern Territory. Now it is a matter of connecting back with key managers and leaders, [and] looking at how we provide more culturally safe spaces that are welcoming for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
The chance to engage
“My role, which I just love, is supporting and engaging closely with Salvation Army corps and services, looking at how we, as The Salvation Army, acknowledge, understand, honour, respect and create a culturally safe and welcoming space,” Maria says.
“We have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living the effects of terrible experiences and we must have understanding. It means looking at how we, as a service, engage in truth telling around injustices to Aboriginal peoples, [asking] what does reconciliation look like for us and ensuring our spaces are welcoming and safe – spiritually, culturally and physically.”
Importance of connection and care
Maria grew up around the eastern Goldfields of WA, including the Mount Margaret Mission.
“School gave me the English and maths,” she says. “But I also had the Aboriginal teaching of culture, kinship systems and language, and the importance of maintaining our own stories, because I had grandfathers and grandmothers who were able to teach us.”
For most of her adult life, Maria was based at Port Augusta on Barngarla land, working in Aboriginal health in the field of drugs and alcohol, dental care and women’s mental health. She then worked on the remote Aṉangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands in lateral violence education and running breakfast programs.
Maria also worked in creative arts as therapy and spent two years working with her first husband with the Church of Christ in Mooroopna (Vic.) and surrounding areas offering support, prayer and pastoral care.
Faith and reconciliation
Passionate about reconciliation and faith, over seven years ago, Maria and family took on the funding and running of an existing program and continue to run ‘Dusty Feet Mob’, a dance and performance group which performs at festivals, schools, churches and more.
Maria says: “We go to schools and talk about the reconciliation journey, cultural awareness around the Stolen Generation, and also talk about our Christian faith and where God has led us.
“In all this, Jesus is central to my life. I committed my life to God when I was about seven or eight. My whole journey has been sharing the love of God to people and I pray that God continues to guide me.”
Positive focus of NAIDOC Week
During NAIDOC Week 2022, Maria will support Salvation Army churches, programs and services as they engage with and more deeply understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and culture.
She says: “For me personally, the 2022 NAIDOC theme – ‘Get up! Stand up! Show up!’ – means getting up there and continuing to be a strong advocate for our people. ‘Stand up’, means I stand as a strong Aboriginal person, empowered to make a difference.
“NAIDOC is always a great time, because it is a chance to showcase who we are as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It offers a focus and space to showcase our history, languages, songs, our dance, our art, whether it’s through education, storytelling, poems, singing or dancing. It is also a chance to show that in 2022, we are still standing strong and proud.
“I think we really are all in this together and my hope is as one we can move forward in this space and embrace all the beauty that Australia has for all of us. I would encourage everyone from all different backgrounds and nationalities to join with us and embrace the NAIDOC celebrations we bring to the community. There is great strength in standing up and standing strong together!”
*NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on Earth. (https://www.naidoc.org.au/)