How do we heal from a pain that lives deep within us and others do not acknowledge?
As a person who is privileged enough to know and feel the unconditional love and support of my parents, aunties, uncles, cousins and grandparents throughout my life, I can only imagine the pain of being denied this most fundamental of rights.
This, however, doesn’t have to be imagined for far too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are members of the Stolen Generation – people subject to policies where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their parents on the basis of their race. Many never seeing their mothers or fathers again.
On Saturday 13 February, Mt Druitt and District Reconciliation Group and the Baabayn Aboriginal Corporation gathered at Holy Family Parish, Emerton, to remember the Apology delivered by then-Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, in 2008.
In a powerful truth-telling experience, the group heard from elder Uncle Greg, Uncle John and his daughter, Aunty Rita and the Baabayn elders who spoke of the effect of the Stolen Generation policies in their own lives. Uncle John and Aunty Rita spoke of being forcibly removed from their families and in some cases suffering abuse and being unable to reconnect back with members of their families before they passed. Aunty Rita spoke about meeting her mother but being unable to recognise her the first time.
Given the fundamental role families play in all our lives, these policies have had long-lasting effects, and the commemoration of the Apology reminds us that we have much work to do to heal intergenerational trauma inflicted on families. Uncle John’s daughter and Cass from Baabayn spoke about how being descendants of people who were removed affected them and their knowledge of their family too.
Even amidst this sorrow, the resilience and strength of the uncles, aunties and community shone throughout the evening. Their courageous witness to their lives and advocacy for the truth to continue to be shared are an example to us all of the power of the human spirit and the powerful culture of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
Truth-telling and asking for forgiveness after doing wrong are humbling and challenging experiences, but they are fundamental in our healing as a nation. The Apology was important because it truly acknowledged and expressed sorrow for the deep personal pain the removal of children from their families causes. Unfortunately, still, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are removed at disproportionate rates and we must advocate that these children are brought up with family wherever possible and learn their culture and identity. Sorry means it does not happen again.
… 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. …
– The Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, Prime Minister, 13 February 2008
Patrice Moriarty is the Social Justice Coordinator in the Diocese of Parramatta.