Ten years on from the national apology to the Stolen Generations

There is still much to be done. Too much, say Aboriginal leaders.

On the tenth anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal leaders say not enough has been done to bring Australians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – closer together.

John Lochowiak, the chair of the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council says he laments the slow progress – and lack of progress in some cases – in the ten years since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the apology to the Stolen Generations.

“We hoped that the apology would bring us closer together with non-Indigenous Australians. Recent things like the argument around moving Australia Day shows that we still have some way to go.”

The annual Closing The Gap report, released yesterday, revealed only three of seven targets are on track to be met after a decade of work to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While efforts to close the gap on Indigenous child mortality, access to early childhood education and Year 12 attainment rates are on track, literacy, school attendance, employment and life expectancy targets have seen little progress.

The targets to close the gap in school attendance and halve the gap in reading and numeracy were set to be met this year, but will expire before being attained. The attendance rate for Indigenous students nationally was 83.2 per cent, while the rate for non-Indigenous students is 93 per cent. The goal of bringing the performance of Indigenous students up to national minimum standards is only on track in Year 9 numeracy, of eight areas (reading and numeracy for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9), based on NAPLAN (the annual national assessment scheme for students).

Indigenous Australians are also over-represented in prisons, struggle to find suitable housing and out-of-home care, and experience racism on a daily basis.

Catholic Bishop in Darwin, Eugene Hurley, who is also the chairman of the Bishops Commission for Relations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples says despite significant efforts, Indigenous Australians are also over-represented in prisons, struggle to find suitable housing and out-of-home care, and experience racism on a daily basis. He said the Catholic Church was reaffirming its commitment to “continue the healing process for the benefit of victims of the unjust policies of the past”.

“We must build this hope for a better future by ensuring that in full consultation with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, practical steps are taken to address the grossly entrenched disadvantages many of our First Nations brothers and sisters endure every day. Now is the time to move forward and live out the promises made 10 years ago,” said Bishop Hurley.

Brooke Prentis, a descendant of the Waka Waka people in Queensland, is an Aboriginal Christian leader and Aboriginal spokesperson for Christian advocacy group Common Grace, which is seeking justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples by amplifying the voices of their Christian leaders.

“[The apology] was vitally important to me as an Aboriginal person.” – Brooke Prentis

She was 27 years old when she watched Kevin Rudd deliver the national apology ten years ago. She said she felt then what she continues to feel today: a tension between what was for her an event of major national significance and what she saw in reality.

“[The apology] was vitally important to me as an Aboriginal person. But the reality hits you. This was an event of national significance, as it is ten years later, but at an everyday Australian level, it gets some attention for one day and them seemingly forgotten about. People in the office where I was watching on TV ten years ago didn’t seem interested in what was going on at all.”

Prentis gets emotional as she speaks to Eternity about all the time she has spent in the last ten years “trying to educate non-Aboriginal Christians and build friendships to work towards reconciliation.” She says there’s plenty of “talk” but not enough “action” from the Australian church on Indigenous issues, including the funding of Indigenous ministries.

“Aboriginal people involved in these justice issues are fighting hard to have our voices heard, and those of us in ministry are fighting hard in our communities to get funding to help our people grieve and deal with the trauma of being part of the Stolen Generations and all that that encompasses: dealing with poverty and the ongoing effects of generational trauma,” she says.

“These aren’t just Aboriginal issues, these are national issues.”

…there’s plenty of “talk” but not enough “action” from the church on Indigenous issues. – Brooke Prentis

Prentis says one of the biggest issues on this ten year anniversary of the national apology to the Stolen Generations, is compensation. She points to Prime Minister’s Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement this week of a national apology to victims of institutional child sexual abuse, and a compensation package of up to $150,000 for victims.

“When Kevin Rudd announced the apology to the Stolen Generations, he said there would be no compensation. And still, to this day, there is no compensation at a Federal level.”

Opposition leader Bill Shorten announced this week that, should Labor win government, surviving members of the Stolen Generations would be entitled to compensation of up to $75,000. Prentis says even that announcement is questionable: “So, an Aboriginal life is worth half of a non-Indigenous Australian’s life?”

Prentis says her hope for the next ten years of the journey towards reconciliation is that the lives of the Aboriginal people taken from their families will be remembered.

“I hope that it’s not just Kevin Rudd who is remembered as the Prime Minister that delivered the national apology, but that Aboriginal lives are remembered. These are real people.

“I would love to see some sort of national marker – a memorial in every capital city or in Canberra that people can visit. We have no national markers for our true history, and this is only just one part of that history. But one of the things about trauma is that you need somewhere to go and grieve and process trauma.”

Ten years ago today, here are some of the words spoken by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:

The time has now come for the nation to turn 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.

Read the full speech, here.