Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sorry It Took So Long To Say Sorry

It's interesting, and disheartening, to read some of the international mainstream media reaction to the Rudd government's decision to offer an official 'Sorry' (to the tens of thousands of Aboriginal children removed from their parents in the first half of the 1900s) the initial item of business for the new government's first day in Parliament on February 13.

Excerpt follow from longer reports and news stories.

The Associated Press :
Australia will issue its first formal apology to its indigenous people next month, the government announced Wednesday, a milestone that could ease tensions with a minority whose mixed-blood children were once taken away on the premise that their race was doomed.

Australia has had a decade-long debate about how best to acknowledge Aborigines who were affected by a string of 20th century policies that separated mixed-blood Aboriginal children from their families — the cohort frequently referred to as Australia's stolen generation.

From 1910 until the 1970s, around 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children were taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were a doomed race and saving the children was a humane alternative.

Barbara Livesey, chief executive of Reconciliation Australia, a government
commissioned agency tasked with bringing black and white Australians together, said the apology on the day after Parliament resumes for the first time since the November elections would be historic.

"It's a moment that all Australians should feel incredibly proud of, that we're recognizing the mistakes of the past," she said.
Excerpts from the New York Times :

The history of relations between Australia’s Aboriginal population and the broader population is one of brutality and neglect. Tens of thousands of Aboriginals died from disease, warfare and dispossession in the years after European settlement, and it was not until 1962 that they were able to vote in national elections.

But the most lasting damage was done by the policy of removing Aboriginal children and placing them either with white families or in state institutions as part of a drive to assimilate them with the white population.

A comprehensive 1997 report estimates that between one in three and one in 10 Aboriginal children, the so-called stolen generations, were taken from their homes and families in the century until the policy was formally abandoned in 1969.

Excerpts from Reuters :

Aborigines are Australia's most disadvantaged group. Many live in Third World conditions in remote outback settlements.

The 1997 "Bringing Them Home" report found Stolen Generation children, as depicted in the 2002 film "Rabbit-Proof Fence", were forcibly taken and placed in orphanages run by churches or charities, or fostered out to socialise them to European culture.

Some were brutalised or abused.

But John Howard, as prime minister, rejected an apology, arguing that because the removal of aboriginal children between the 1870s and 1960s was done by past governments, such a move could open the door to reparation claims.

From the BBC :
Thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly taken from their parents and given to white families or institutions to raise between 1915 and 1969.

The policy was aimed at forcing assimilation between Aboriginal and white communities.

Indigenous campaigners have been seeking a billion-dollar nationwide compensation package for the policy.

But the government has ruled this out, instead promising to fund improved education and health care facilities for Aboriginal communities.
From the Voice Of America :

The apology will include a reference to the so-called "Stolen Generations." These were young Aborigines taken forcibly from their families by the authorities and placed in foster homes. It was an official attempt to dilute indigenous culture, and the practice persisted from 1910 until the 1970's. One-hundred thousand children were affected.

Members of the "Stolen Generations" have said that being taken from their families amounted to kidnap, from which they suffered great trauma.

Senior officials say the apology will not attribute guilt to the current generation of Australian people, nor will it offer compensation.

From the Malaysian Sun :
The Australian government has said it will make a formal apology to Aborigines for centuries of discrimination.

The previous government had always refused to apologise to aborigines.

Aborigines make up only 2 percent of the Australian population and often live far below the poverty line.

Until the 1970's, aboriginal children were forcibly adopted by white families, with the objective of integrating them into society.

Much of the historical summarisation in the international media regarding racist and colonial policies towards Aboriginals is harsh indeed, as it well should be, for the most part. But for an issue that is rarely mentioned in the international mainstream media, it's still a bit shocking to see how this part of Australian history now reads to the rest of the world.

Which is yet another reason why 'Sorry' is a first and important step towards long-overdue reconciliation.