The 26th of May is National Sorry Day. On this day, we mourn for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly taken away from their families which we now know as ‘The Stolen Generations’ that occurred during the ‘Assimilation era’ as per government policy of the time (officially 1910 to 1970).
Who Are the Stolen Generation?
The Stolen Generations are those children who were taken from their families during this period. Since the abolishment of the practice, many survivors have spoken out about the violence they experienced and the agony they continue to feel as they search for their families. While some have been fortunate enough to be reunited with their families, others have not. This has left an indelible mark on them, which has been felt in every part of their lives.
Short Memory for Some
Despite the fact that ‘Sorry Day’ is a national commemoration day, it receives little to no coverage in mainstream media. yet individuals and communities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origins never forget. With this in mind, we too should never forget, knowing that these practices have damaged so many First Nation families?
The extent of the damage may never truly be known
It is possible that the exact number of first nation children removed from their families will never be discovered, and it is believed that relatively few families have been found. Children from three or more generations were abducted from their families and they may never be able to reunite again.
What can we do on this national day of mourning?
On this day, we can come together as a nation to recognise the continued grief and loss felt by many fellow Australians and their extended families, as well as their lingering agony and intergenerational trauma.
Their pain is our shame
Various inhumane and disturbing government policies have resulted in oppressive and discriminatory conditions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This is in reference to "The Killing Times," when Aboriginal people were massacred from 1788 to 1928. Survivors of this heinous event were then subjected to "protection" policies that were nothing like it sounds.
This policy was developed in order to use "protectors" to isolate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations on reserves, missions, and government settlements. The intention of the "protection" era, which began in the late nineteenth century, was to take full control of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' lives. Forcible confinement, institutionalisation, and child removals were all part of this.
In 1937, an official assimilation policy was established. The policy was defined as follows at the 1961 Native Welfare Conference of Federal and State Ministers:
The policy of assimilation means that all Aborigines (sic) and part-Aborigines (sic) are expected to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs as other Australians.
However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had no say in the policy and were not allowed to refuse it. The policy may have been implemented, but the torture and suffering never ended.
The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, one year after the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families report was overruled. The investigation focused on the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities. The report's main recommendation was that reparation needed to be made.
On February 13, 2008, nearly a decade later, the past Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd apologised to members of the Stolen Generations. This is often hailed as a watershed moment in history, and it was crucial for victims who had been impacted by being forcibly separated from their families to finally have a government tell the truth. Rudd, on the other hand, stated unequivocally that the government had no intention of considering compensation.
While there is no national reparation system in place, numerous states and territories have established reparation strategies to compensate members of the Stolen Generations. Unfortunately, many victims of the Stolen Generations have died before receiving reparations, and there is no process in place to pay it forwards to their families.
There were 9,070 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care in Australia when Rudd delivered his apology 14 years ago. This figure has indeed increased to around 18,900, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children now accounting for more than 41% of all children in out-of-home care.
A time to heal
Commemorations like Sorry Day represent a permanent link between the present and past generations, dedicating them to memory and attributing significance, meaning, and purpose to them. National Sorry Day commemorates not only the past but also the ongoing injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals. All the "sorry's" in the world will not bring justice, support, or compensation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been forcibly separated from their families. Remembering this significant occasion is the least we can do.