On this day every year, we are called to remember the ongoing impact of the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, those we know call the ‘Stolen Generation’.
As a non-Aboriginal person, this is a day to proactively reflect on what this means to me personally, and in what way can I contribute to the journey towards reconciliation.
The tabling of the ‘Bringing Them Home Report’ in Parliament on 1997 was an eye-opener for many non-Aboriginal Australians, who were not aware at the extent of the removals (up to 1 in 10 Aboriginal children were removed from their families, according to the Report), or of the impact this Government Policy would have not only on the individuals and their immediate families, but on future generations, extended families and communities. It was then that I realised that this was not an ’Aboriginal problem’, it was an ‘Australian problem’.
The following year saw the first official Sorry Day. However, it was ‘The Corroboree 2000 Bridge Walk’ across Sydney Harbour Bridge that shut down traffic and made national headlines as hundreds of thousands of people walked in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, that demonstrated publicly that non-Aboriginal Australians were genuinely sorry.
Finally, after much debate, in 2008, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apogised, in parliament, for the policies that were responsible for so much sorrow. In his words:
“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…For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.”
I am not a political person, but I do recall an immense feeling of pride when I heard these words, and that finally, on behalf of us all, the Government was saying Sorry.
However, in many ways, the journey towards reconciliation has just begun. The number of Aboriginal children at risk of harm, who are vulnerable and/or who are removed from their families remains disproportionally higher than those of no-Aboriginal children. In my local area of Western Sydney, of young children (aged 0 to 5) who have been determined to be vulnerable, 16% identify as Aboriginal, despite making up only 2.8% of the population. The numbers just don’t stack up.
So, on any day, but especially today, is this my problem? Yes, it is. Not only that, I want to be part of the solution! How? Knowledge is power, so I proactively seek to understand the how’s and why’s (and if you don’t believe that trauma can be passed on through the generations you may need to read up on epigenetics!). I try and listen with open ears, heart and mind. I look for opportunities to work with and support local Aboriginal organisations, and Aboriginal staff in both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations. I support Aboriginal suppliers and providers. I encourage my staff to be genuinely respectful and to engage in activities that support our local Aboriginal communities. I strive to make our workplace culturally safe for everyone. Above all, I acknowledge that I still have a long way to go to truly understand and appreciate “one of the richest and oldest continuing cultures in the world”, and that I am truly sorry for the suffering imposed on the Stolen Generation and their families.
Chief Executive Officer