National Sorry Day: Australia remembers the Stolen Generations
A National Sorry Day prayer and reflections on the National Apology by First Nations Christians
Today is National Sorry Day in Australia. Commemorated annually, National Sorry Day is a time for all Australians to pause and remember the Stolen Generations – the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who suffered as a result of past government policies and practices of forced child removal and assimilation.
It is a day when Australians acknowledge the trauma and loss that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities suffered due to these policies and their ongoing effects.
While National Sorry Day is marked annually on May 26, it was actually on 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal National Apology on behalf of the Australian Parliament to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the government’s policies that led to the Stolen Generations.
Several years ago, Eternity published a prayer for National Sorry Day that had been prepared by the Wontulp-Bi-Buya Indigenous Theology Working Group in 1997. Wontulp-Bi-Buya is the Queensland partner of Nungalinya College, Darwin, and provides Indigenous leadership training for church and community.
Last year, Eternity asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians, who had grown up since the Stolen Generation, to reflect on where they were, what they were doing and what the National Apology meant to them.
Today, we these two important resources for reflection.
Prayer for National Sorry Day
Holy Father, God of Love,
You are the Creator of this land and of all good things.
We acknowledge the pain and shame of our history
and the suffering of our peoples,
and we ask your forgiveness.
We thank you for the survival of indigenous cultures.
Our hope is in you because you gave your Son Jesus
to reconcile the world to you.
We pray for your strength and grace to forgive,
accept and love one another,
as you love us and forgive and accept us
in the sacrifice of your Son.
Give us the courage to accept the realities of our history
so that we may build a better future for our nation.
Teach us to respect all cultures.
Teach us to care for our land and waters.
Help us to share justly the resources of this land.
Help us to bring about spiritual and social change
to improve the quality of life for all groups in our communities,
especially the disadvantaged.
Help young people to find true dignity and self esteem by your Spirit.
May your power and love be the foundations
on which we build our families, our communities and our nation,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Christians reflect on what Australia saying sorry meant for them
The day before the big day
It was the day before Kevin Rudd was going to deliver the National Apology and I was driving my Uncle and a bunch of older Aboriginal men to Canberra for the official event. We were almost there and stopped off at a tavern for dinner.
After a while I noticed a bunch of non-Aboriginal guys kept looking at us and it was getting obvious they were talking about us. They were big, tough-looking guys and I was starting to get nervous. I was the youngest in the group and even though I’ve got a background in boxing, I knew I couldn’t have protected all the old fellas from this group of men if they started something. I was really getting nervous, thinking, ‘This isn’t going to end well’.
Then this one guy approached us – a big unit – and I was thinking ‘I’m gonna get myself killed, here.’
“Are you guys here for that big apology that’s happening tomorrow?” he asked me.
“Yeah, yeah we are,” I said.
“Well we’ve got something we want to say to you,” he said. “Before all that starts tomorrow. Before they say sorry tomorrow … Well, we’re sorry. We just want to tell you all that we’re sorry.”
It was one of the most impacting moments of my life.
– Shane Phillips, 55 years, Eora
Alone and on the phone
I was working at my first professional job at Brisbane City Council. I think I was too ashamed to take the day off. I walked past a TV that was playing it. [There was] no volume so I read the closed captions on the screen. It felt a bit strange, being in this new shiny foreign environment and [watching] something that was so important and monumental by myself.
I cried. Didn’t really care who saw me. I thought of my dad who was taken away and the far reaching and deep impact it has had on his life. When you reflect on those individuals stories across the nation, you begin to realise just how important this moment was and is.
I called my dad, we cried together. He said ‘change is happening, my baby, change is happening’. Those words will stick with me forever!
– Elle Davidson, 32 years, Balanggarra
A personal moment in a workday
When ‘Kevin 07’ stood before the nation and said ‘Sorry’, it was a moving moment in the history of our nation. I desperately wanted to be present to witness this occasion at the nations’ capital and had requested time off work in my retail job to attend. That request was denied and so I went to work that day accompanied by a small radio I had delicately tuned to the ABC, to be able to hear the address.
“I am sorry” the words rang out and impacted me in a way I had not anticipated. My family’s Indigenous identity had suffered because of the prevalence of assimilationist attitudes in society and, as such, my relationship to my own Indigeneity was complex. I had questions about what it meant to be Aboriginal and what that meant for me personally.
When those words of apology were spoken, I felt them on a personal level. I felt that there were some misgivings or regret (although, perhaps, not remorse) that political leadership had about the destructive policies and practices that had meant that I was disconnected from my Aboriginal cultural heritage.
Although I was already on a path to reclaiming my Indigenous identity, this was a key moment where that journey progressed and I felt perhaps a new level of confidence to continue down the path of reclamation.
– Adam Gowen, 36 years, Wiradjuri
In a sea of people in Canberra
How can a simple word conjure a feeling of gratefulness, historically not a feeling we connect with the government? I remember feeling this, sitting among a sea of people in Canberra, hearing their cries, their applause, their relief of finally being acknowledged.
Has the Apology healed our country? No, but it’s a vital step to our journey to healing and reconciliation. We always must ask ourselves what else are we ‘sorry’ for?
– Larissa Minniecon, 39 years, Kabi Kabi/Gureng Gureng and Torres Strait Islander