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Why National Sorry Day is so important

We remember and acknowledge the government mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
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Why is Sorry Day important?

According to the Australian government, somewhere between 1 in 3 and 1 in 10 indigenous Australian children were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and as late as 1970.

National Sorry Day has been recognised since 26 May 1998.

(Image: Getty)

The ironies and hipocrisies of the Child Removal Policy are vast and wide. As early as 1789 white settlers had forcibly taken over land belonging to indigenous peoples. Massacres and revenge killings were commonplace.

By 1910 so many aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had been killed, the British Parliament declared the indigenous peoples to be in danger of being wiped out. So they came up with a solution.

The solution was to remove the children from their ‘endangered’ homes and place them in missionaries and institutions. Many biracial children were placed with white foster families in order to train them to be ‘white’.

At least 100,000 children were removed from their families.

(Image: Getty)

According to the Bringing Them Home Report, ‘at least 100,000 children’ were removed from their families and communities during this time. “A common practice was simply to remove the child forcibly, often in the absence of the parent but sometimes even by taking the child from the mother’s arms,” says the report.

It’s not difficult to see why a national apology was required.

The Bringing Them Home Report

In May 1997, the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament, and as a result, National Sorry Day has been recognised since 26 May 1998.

The report also recommended that the Prime Minister (John Howard) make a public apology to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations. Howard decided against it.

It wasn’t until 13 February 2008 that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a full apology in his Sorry Speech.

“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,” Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister of Australia said.

“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.”

Those removed from their homes were three times more likely to say they had no-one to call on in a crisis.

(Image: Getty)

Some words from the Stolen Children

A 10-year-old indigenous girl was removed from her mother in Western Australia in 1935.

She says: “I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car.”

“We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us.”

A Victorian man was adopted into a white family at just 3 months, his account of that time is this: “I’ve got everything that could be reasonably expected: a good home environment, education, stuff like that, but that’s all material stuff. It’s all the non-material stuff that I didn’t have – the lineage.”

It’s like you’re the first human being at times. You know, you’ve just come out of nowhere; there you are. In terms of having a direction in life, how do you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from?”

Charles Passi Dauareb Tribesman from the Mer Island group in the Torres Straits: “National Sorry Day is important to us as an organisation, but also to us as Australia’s First Peoples because we use it to remember and recognise our Stolen Generations.”

“Most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people I know have been affected either directly or indirectly by this terrible part of our history since European colonisation.”

Cause and Effect

A 3-year study conducted in Melbourne states some of the differences between children who were taken versus those who were raised by their families.

Those removed were:

  • Three times more likely to say they had no-one to call on in a crisis

  • Three times as likely to report having been in jail

  • Twice as key to report current use of illicit substances

The effects of the Stolen Generation still live in the hearts.

(Image: Getty)

The continuing need to say ‘Sorry’

As white Australians it’s easy to forget, ignore or just not think about what it must be like to be an indigenous Australian. We can so easily put it to the back of our minds and carry on with our day. But the same can’t be said for the children of families that were affected by the Child Removal policy, or, any indigenous peoples for that matter.

The effects of the Stolen Generation still live in the hearts and minds of every indigenous Australian. National Sorry Day is there to remind us all that black lives matter, too.

The suffering and stress that occurred cannot be underestimated and it’s the job of each of us to find a compassionate way to honour the trauma that the indigenous peoples now hold in their cultural story.

“If people have been traumatised and are still suffering from the effects of that trauma, they are re-traumatised every time something reminds them of the trauma, even people who have made some degree of recovery. And that is the case in any situation where there is a post- traumatic stress disorder. Things that remind people of the trauma will bring back memories of the trauma and severe distress (Dr Jane McKendrick, Victorian Aboriginal Mental Health Network, evidence 310).

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