The Salvation Army’s journey of reconciliation
The Salvation Army recently announced its support for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament being enshrined in the constitution. However, this decision to move towards greater reconciliation is not new. It comes as part of The Salvation Army’s extensive history of engagement with the work of reconciliation.
By KIRRALEE NICOLLE
The Salvation Army’s acknowledgment of the significance of Indigenous Australians began at its commencement in Australia in the 19th century. In 1885, then-national commander Colonel Ballington Booth remarked that First Nations peoples were owed a large debt as the land’s original occupants. In 1886, Captain John Dean of the Parramatta Corps declared, “God hath made of one blood all nations that dwell on the face of the earth.”
First Nations leaders and culture have also been important to The Salvation Army’s history. Salvation Army Ngarrinjeri Sergeant-Major Pantoni led a petition to establish a local corps, which later grew to 100 members. He also performed at the 1904 International Congress in London. Scottish explorer Tom Petrie once compared yarning circles to Salvation Army meetings.
Throughout the 20th century, The Salvation Army continued to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters through church meetings, Sunday schools and community services. However, The Salvation Army recognises that although often done with good intentions, not all of their actions towards First Nations peoples were constructive or honouring. Some of this included participating in the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by setting up Salvation Army missions across the country. Towards the end of the 1900s, in 1997, The Salvation Army recognised its harmful actions towards Indigenous Australians in a national Statement of Reconciliation.
In 2004, what was then The Salvation Army Australia Southern Territory, which was made up of the states and territories of Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, launched The Salvation Army Multicultural and Indigenous Australia Council (SAMIAC). Then five years later, in 2009, Mutti Mutti elder Uncle Vince Ross led a National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group to better inform The Salvation Army on its reconciliation journey. That same year, The Salvation Army also established a team of volunteers in what was then the Australian Eastern Territory (NSW, ACT and Queensland) to better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The first national Salvation Army Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministry Conference was then held in 2012, where the Reconciliation Action Plan was first proposed to the Executive Mission Council. Two years later, in 2014, Shirli Congoo was also appointed as the first Aboriginal Territorial Indigenous Ministry Coordinator.
From 2015 until 2020, the Eastern Territory launched an Innovate RAP, and the Victoria Division and Tasmania Division each launched Reflect RAPs. For more information on RAP types, visit https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation-action-plans/the-rap-framework/. In 2020, a National RAP Coordinator was then appointed to facilitate the development of a nationwide RAP.
With the advent of the new Australia Territory in 2018, The Salvation Army committed to “actively journey and partner in mutual respectful relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples for our mutual flourishing”.
From 2018 to 2019, three First Nations leaders were assigned to Salvation Army leadership positions. Gooreng Gooreng man Mr Adrian Appo OAM was appointed to the first Board of The Salvation Army Australia Territory, Shirli Congoo was appointed National General Manager for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Ministry, and Uncle Vince Ross remained at the helm of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council, this time at a national level.
As a prelude to its support for the Voice, in 2017, The Salvation Army publicly announced its support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which called for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
This support continues today, as The Salvation Army seeks to keep central the welfare of Indigenous Australians and the wellbeing of all other individuals and groups experiencing marginalisation. For more information about The Salvation Army’s commitment to reconciliation, visit https://www.salvationarmy.org.au/about-us/governance-policy/our-commitment-to-reconciliation/.