On 26 May 1997, the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report on the Stolen Generation was tabled in the federal parliament. National Sorry Day was born the following year as an annual reminder of the forced removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that occurred under government policies.
The Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) believes that Sorry Day is an opportunity to reflect on the immense grief and suffering that the force removals had on families and communities.
“It is important to understand what has happened and to recognise that children are still being removed in large numbers from their families,” the UAICC said in a statement.
The number of Aboriginal children on care and protection orders, which can lead to removal from their homes, has increased every year throughout the past decade.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continue to face significant challenges in maintaining their connection with their land.
The federal government’s decision to cut funding to remote Indigenous communities sparked nationwide protests last month. The decision effectively means that 150 remote communities in Western Australia will be closed and its inhabitants forced to migrate to urban towns to access basic services.
The UAICC voiced their concerns at the effects the forced closures will have on the oldest living culture in the world.
“Many of these communities exist in places that allow Aboriginal people to stay in touch with their land and their culture,” the UAICC said.
“This is another example of forced removal and dispossession.”
The trauma of dispossession is compounded by the high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are homeless. Indigenous Australians represent only 3 per cent of the total population, yet 25 per cent of homeless people are Indigenous Australians.
While governments publicly support closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, the high incarceration of Indigenous Australians remains a major obstacle to achieving that goal.
From 2000-2013, the imprisonment rate for Indigenous adults increased by 57 per cent. More than 28 per cent of Australia’s prison population consists of Indigenous Australians. They are also15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians.
Aboriginal deaths in police custody occur with alarming frequency in the Australian justice system. Just last week, a 59-year-old Indigenous man died in police custody in a Darwin watch house after being arrested for drinking in public.
Jonathon Hunyor, principal lawyer at the North Australian Aboriginal justice agency, blames the death on the Northern Territory’s new ‘paperless arrests’ law, which grants the police power to hold a person in custody for four hours without charge over a suspected minor offence.
“When you have a law that means more Aboriginal people will be more often in custody for longer, it immediately makes it more likely someone is going to die in custody,” Mr Hunyor told Guardian Australia.
“That was one of the basic lessons of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody – that Aboriginal people aren’t necessarily more likely to die in custody, but they are so much more likely to be in custody and that’s why there’s such a high number of these sorts of tragedies.”
National Sorry Day marks the start of National Reconciliation Week, which will run from 27 May to 3 June. This is an opportunity for Australians to reflect on past injustices and commit to journey together on the road to reconciliation. It is also a chance to celebrate the the strength and resilience of Indigenous Australians in the face of adversity.
Reconciliation Australia is encouraging all Australians to celebrate National Reconciliation Week by hosting events in their office, home or community. Some of the suggestions include: holding a smoking ceremony, walking on an Indigenous heritage trail, displaying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags and performing a reconciliation dance. For more inspiration, visit the National Reconciliation Week website.
The Church of All Nations in Carlton will be hosting a Service of Lament on Sunday 31 May at 10 am. The service will express the congregation’s commitment to continuing the journey towards recognition, reconciliation and peace.
Image by Corey Oakley via Flickr.