Sorry Day is more than just saying sorry, it is a time to reflect on the deep sadness caused to so many, and to stand in solidarity.
Today is National Sorry Day.
The 26th of May every year since 1998 has been recognised as National Sorry Day. It was on this date in 1997 that the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in our Federal Parliament. A report of truth telling, a report of heartache, a report of humanity and the injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of this report.
This report of course told the truth of the stolen generations. Please let us correct our language from stolen generation in the singular, to Stolen Generations in the plural. For the Stolen Generations are the survivors of past government policies that allowed for the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. For the Stolen Generations was not one period of 25 years but lasted for over 18 decades. For the Stolen Generations was not long ago but lasted right up until the 1970s with some homes for Aboriginal children not closing until the 1980s - This is in my lifetime.
Today, just as the Bringing Them Home report was dedicated, I bring the same dedication. I dedicate this time of reflection to the admiration to those who found the strength to tell their stories to the Inquiry and to the generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples separated from their families and communities. I pay tribute to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples affected by forcible removal. We acknowledge the hardships they endured and continue to endure, and the sacrifices they made. We remember and lament all the children who will never come home.
Sorry Day is more than just saying Sorry. It is a time to reflect on the deep sadness caused to so many. I would go as far as to say the entire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population suffers this deep sadness as it is hard to find even one of our families that has not been touched, effected and traumatised by the Stolen Generations stories in our families. It is a time to remember how our history has shaped our present and how we allow it to shape our future. It is a time to pray – pray for truth, for healing, for justice.
The Bringing Them Home report delivered 54 recommendations, some specifically in relation to the church. One of which was to hold a National Sorry Day. However - many of the recommendations have failed to be implemented. Many Australians will not know that today is Sorry Day. Many Christians will not have found time today to pray.
The report concluded and I quote, that "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities have endured gross violations of their human rights. These violations continue to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples daily lives. They were an act of genocide, aimed at wiping out indigenous families, communities, and cultures, vital to the precious and inalienable heritage of Australia".
National Sorry Day isn’t just to be celebrated each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals but also to recognise the present day effects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
On 13 February 2008, at 9:00am (AEDT), Prime Minister Rudd tabled the following apology as the first order of business at the opening of Australia's Parliament in 2008; it was passed unanimously by the members of the lower house at 9:57am:
I move that:
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 national history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page; 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.
These are significant honouring hope-filled words. I hoped. I wanted. But …
You see my friends, I’m still waiting for us, the nation to turn that new page. How have we righted the wrongs of the past to move forward with confidence to the future? How have we done anything to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity? How have we created what was going to be our future and now 9 years later is our present, created mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility? We have a long way to go my friends.
Kevin Rudd’s words often make me feel sick. He said, the injustices of the past must never, ever happen again. The words, “The New Stolen Generation” ring in my ears. My friends it is happening again. On June 30 1997, there were 2,785 Aboriginal kids in “out of home care”. Now there are more than 16,000. 1 in 4 Aboriginal children in Queensland live in out of home care. The majority of these kids have not been placed with their Aboriginal families; and relatives are routinely denied ‘kinship carer’ status without justification. Babies are being taken from their mothers in hospital without the mothers even being able to demonstrate being able to parent and also without being able to say goodbye. Children are being taken from women experiencing domestic violence, or caught in addiction, while shelters and programs are closed down.
These are stories I have encountered first hand.
The words I read on the Colebrook home in South Australia ring in my ears, “And every morning as the sun came up the whole family would wail. They did that for 32 years until they saw me again. Who can imagine what a mother went through?” Our mothers in 2017 are still enduring this.
My friends, sorry doesn’t mean much if we do it again. Sorry doesn’t mean much if our voices as Aboriginal peoples continue to be ignored.
Will you stand with us in solidarity, raising our voices loud and clear against injustice, and responding to the radical call of Jesus to love each other. Will you come on the journey with us as our friend where we can live out together Ecclesiastes 4:9-10:
“Two are better than one, Because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.”
As I started we are survivors, but how much stronger and less lonely that survival will be with our non-Aboriginal brothers and sisters standing beside us as we lift each other up against the injustices that make us fall.
Today may we commit to learn more of our shared history. May we commit to pray for continued healing across this nation for Stolen Children, Stolen Wages, and Stolen Land. And may we fight for justice to implement all the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home Report and review the brokenness in our systems and structures that mean we have 16,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care today, committing to finding new solutions.
20 years after the original 'Bringing Them Home' report, The Healing Foundations have produced a follow up report exploring what has been done since 1997, and importantly what remains unaddressed. Since most recommendations from the original report were never implemented, this report makes renewed recommendations and outlines an action plan for healing.
If you'd like to learn more about National Sorry Day, these frequently asked questions we put together last year are a good place to start.
Take action: Share your own apology
We encourage you to share this page with your own apology on social media, or use the words below if you don't know what to say, to show your recognition of the wrongs of our past show and show your solidarity with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples towards a better future.
"Today, on National Sorry Day, I add my personal apology to the families of the Stolen Generations. I am sorry for how our country treated you, and commit to standing with you towards reconciliation and justice."
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Brooke Prentis is Common Grace's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Team's Spokesperson. She is a descendant of the Waka Waka people, an activist for indigenous rights, a Christian pastor, and an accountant. Image by Heide Smith.