Australia says sorry

A little off topic I guess, but today was a very important day in Australia’s history.

It does somewhat relate to the environment in terms of white settlement in this country and the impact it had on our indigenous people; the oldest continuing cultures in human history, who were forced from the land of which they were excellent stewards. We could have learned (and still can learn) so much from them.

We’re a young country and proud of our achievements, but we have also had our shameful periods, some of which were covered up and ignored for years.

Most folks overseas probably wouldn’t be aware of what’s known as The Stolen Generation in relation to our indigenous people. In fact, many Australians aren’t even aware of what The Stolen Generation is all about.

It describes the period when through legislation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families en masse based purely on their race and made wards of the state. They were often maltreated and thrust into a world they didn’t need, want or understand.

This isn’t something that ended hundreds of years ago – it was happening right up until the early 1970’s. I remember going to school with some of these kids. They used to puzzle me, one in particular whom I’ll call Marty. We were about 8 years old at the time I guess and I remember him saying he was taken away from his mother, who was thousands of miles away. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about. During lunchtimes, he’d just get up and walk out the school gates; as if there was nothing wrong with that. The teachers would drag him back and the next opportunity, off he’d go again. He wasn’t running away, he was just doing what was natural for him – to leave places he didn’t like. He was also trying to walk back home to his mother.

In early Australian history, the slaughter of Aboriginal people was common, but these forced removals were an attempt by some to “breed out” the aboriginal race under the pretext of “protecting” them and making them more like “us”. Like the physical massacres; the government policy was a form of genocide.

When the legislation ended, there was no accountability and for years now, the Aboriginal people have wanted a formal apology from our government. Even an internal inquiry back 11 years ago recommended that an apology, among other reparations, be made. The Government of the time refused to; the same government that refused to recognize climate change until it became an election issue and even then still continued to refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. That government was oustered a few months back.

The situation in our country with indigenous people is somewhat like other countries – there’s all sorts of debate on doing “what’s right”; who is to blame for the current state of the peoples etc. It’s a very sensitive topic and one I have no interest in debating here on this special day.

Today, our Prime Minister put all those contentious issues aside and did what is long overdue – made an impassioned half hour long apology to The Stolen Generation without qualification or hidden gotchas. It has provided a solid base to move forward in the process of reconciliation.

While the full speech was 30 minutes, the crux of it can be viewed here (about 3 minutes of video). The speech was very well received.

Our opposition party, the previous government, followed Mr Rudd and made a half-assed attempt at an apology and many indigenous and non-indigenous people are furious at their attempt to use the occassion as a butt covering and damage control exercise. This was about saying sorry, not making excuses.

Perhaps with greater understanding of this country’s indigenous people, we’ll also learn from them more about our environment, how it works and what we need to do to take better care of it – so much knowledge is locked up in what’s increasingly become so few minds.

I am a descendant of the first white settlers in this state and I too extend a personal heartfelt apology to The Stolen Generation for what they endured.