Can non-indigenous people be hospitable to Indigenous people on stolen land?

For over 200 years relationships between Indigenous and non-indigenous people in Australia have been based on the dominance and racism of the invaders.  For over 200 years dispossession, misunderstanding, prejudice and oppression have divided our peoples.  While there have been many occasions where Indigenous people have provided hospitality to non-indigenous people to help in the process of mutual understanding and respect, non-indigenous attempts have often been based on dominance, welfarism and paternalism.

The Indigenous Hospitality House is a Christian community house in Melbourne that offers rooms for Indigenous families who have come from out of town to support a family member in hospital. It is attempt to live out God’s radical solidarity with the marginalised. It is an attempt to take reconciliation personally.

Our intentional community acts as hosts, volunteers and supporters for the project but the project itself is accountable to the Indigenous community through the Congress in Victoria.  For us it is a question of creating a space for mutual contact, awareness and sharing – not welfare.

The House has been operating since 2001. At the time of writing in 2013, more than 1400 Indigenous people have stayed at the house, coming from places like Arnhem Land, Mildura, Townsville, Perth, Warrnambool and Echuca.  The length of stay varies: from 1 night to the record-breaking stay of about 60 nights.  Some of our community live in the house, so the place operates as our home rather than a hostel. Guests are invited to join the evening meal, and to relax and feel at home.  A few families have returned to stay with us several times, and they talk about the house as a haven which gives them support whilst they deal with the complexities of hospitals and doctors, alongside their concerns about their sick relatives.

We are far from perfect, but we try and make the house a safe place for our guests in a country which is not a safe place for Indigenous people – just look at the health statistics.

The challenge for the church in Australia is to practice hospitality and recognise that its remembrance of the Gospel and Christ’s ministry binds it to the struggle of Indigenous people for liberation from the ongoing effects of the colonial myth of terra nullius. By participating in this struggle for justice we non-indigenous folk will also find liberation and the church may find a new resolve for witness and mission. It’s not hard to do – just show a bit of hospitality.

Peter Lewis
Business Committee member

One of the original founders of the IHH