Australia’s “Apology” to the Aboriginal People

Aboriginal_ChildrenFebruary 12, 2008, Australia’s Parliament issued an apology to the nation’s Stolen Generations.

“Stolen Generations” is the term used to describe the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children who were forcibly removed from their families by the Australian government between 1869 and 1969.

During this time, an estimated 10-30% of all Aboriginal children, possibility as many as 100,000, were taken from their parents and placed in foster homes, missions, or state institutions. The government admits that every Aboriginal family was affected by this policy, perhaps even multiple generations.

The Australian government could forcibly break up families because up until 1960, Aboriginal parents did not have legal custody of their own children – the state did. Once the children were taken from their families and communities, the state encouraged no further contact between parents and children.

The rationale behind this government campaign of forced removal is contested. The reasons most often cited are:

  • Child Protection: Policymakers sought to provide protection to neglected, abused and abandoned indigenous children.
  • Deterring Extinction: Based on the serious decline of the Aboriginal population after European contact, the government claims it feared Australia’s black population would become extinct.
  • White Assimilation: The state thought it could do a better job preparing indigenous children to live in white Australia.
  • Racial Purity: The government feared the proliferation of mixed-descent children and supported the ideology of eugenics and Northern European genetic superiority.

The Apology

Here is the official transcript of The Apology:

“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.”

Australian Courage

I think it is amazing that the Australian parliament had the courage to issue this apology and acknowledge the pain and suffering it caused its indigenous people. The Apology is indeed the first step in a more equitable and just Australian society.

I wish the American government would take note and issue a similar apology to both Native Americans and African Americans for the institutionalized suffering and criminal acts our government perpetrated against these Americans. I hope we learn from our Australian brethren.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, February 13th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific.

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