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Friday, February 15, 2008

Sorry Day

13 February was been a big day for Australia. The Prime Minister officially apologised to the Stolen Generations. This term refers to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people forcibly removed from their parents and sent to live either with white foster parents or in camps governed by white people. This was a nationwide and state-by-state policy in Australia ostensibly to protect children at risk of harm but in fact enforced as a brutal piece of 'ethnic cleansing' and out and out racism as has been seen at any time in history. It lasted a hundred years or more.

Apologising for this atrocity has been a sticking point with governments ever since the idea was suggested. A large part of white Australia feels that it has nothing to apologise for; that Aboriginal people do nothing but drink, sniff petrol and laze around. Apologising to indigenous people for Australians of this viewpoint is feeding a victim mentality and validating the perceived lack of endeavour. This is, obviously to me, ignoring the fact that the parlous state of a lot of indigenous communities is a result of the interference of another culture.

This is not to ignore that child abuse, alcoholism and petrol sniffing are immense problems in many indigenous communities. These are symptoms of much bigger problems to do with poverty arising from the treatment of the indigenous population. A distributed hunter-gatherer culture had a concentrated capital economic white culture imposed on it that attempted to force its own values to the fore, removing autonomy and self-determination along the way. This was also done without providing a framework for development or progress – i.e. opportunity to access education and employment – without which many of these communities lapsed into third-world level poverty where they remain today. The average indigenous life expectancy is 17 years shorter than that of the white population.

There are reasons for this too; many indigenous communities are very remote making it very difficult to provide these opportunities even when the impetus to do so is present (from either side of the equation). The traditional ways of living, which supported these communities in the past, had been devalued and eroded by the encroaching culture, hopelessness and an apathetic helpless inertia was the result.

It is against this background that one federal MP when asked whether he supported an apology commented on camera that there were places in Australia where he thought children should be removed from their parents (his emphasis).

Nice one Kev

The wording of the apology needed to be right. Australians of any background are straight talking honest people and any half-hearted effort would have rendered the exercise pointless for absolutely everyone. The word sorry was particularly important as an apology can be without regret and regret as well as recognition of the past ills are what was needed. In the photograph is Sally Pierce who was herself removed from her parents. For years she has worn a black tee shirt with the word Sorry on it, after the PM’s speech she changed it.

Below I’ve included a couple of things, some thinking on what the apology might mean from the Special Broadcasting Service, a video of the PM’s speech, the full text of it and some reactions to the speech again from SBS.


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Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.





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