Australia apologizes to Aborigines
Prime minister acknowledges the mistreatment of the ‘Stolen Generations’
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA — Aborigines organized breakfast barbecues in the Outback, schools held assemblies and giant TV screens went up in state capitals today as Australians watched a live broadcast of their government apologizing for policies that degraded its indigenous people.
In a historic parliamentary vote that supporters said would open a new chapter in race relations, lawmakers unanimously adopted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s motion on behalf of all Australians.
A day of symbolism
….Aborigines were invited for the first time to give a traditional welcome Tuesday at the official opening of the Parliament session — symbolic recognition that the land on which the capital was built was taken from Aborigines without compensation.
The apology is directed at tens of thousands of Aborigines of the “Stolen Generations,” who were forcibly taken from their families as children under now abandoned assimilation policies.
Years of divisive debate
More than 1,000 people gathered at two giants screens outside Parliament House and watched Rudd’s speech in silence, many waving Australian and Aboriginal flags. Applause broke out occasionally, but mostly they listened intently….
The apology ended years of divisive debate and a decade of refusals by the previous conservative government that lost November’s elections….
Rudd ruled out compensation — a stance that helped secure support for the apology among the many Australians who believe they should not be held responsible for past policies, no matter how flawed.
Feb. 12, 2008, Associated Press
Australia hails symbolic turning point
Native Aborigines celebrate apology from government
CANBERRA, Australia — Aborigines in white body paint danced and sang traditional songs in Australia’s national Parliament today in a historic ceremony many hoped would mark a new era of race relations in the country.
The ceremony was the government’s symbolic recognition, for the first time, that the land on which Australia’s capital was built was once owned by Aborigines, and was taken away without compensation by European settlers.
[see a video of the ceremony in THE TELEGRAPH of London:
On Wednesday [13 February 2008], Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will offer a formal apology to thousands of Aborigines who were taken from their families as children under now discredited assimilation policies abolished in 1970 — an act that many people view as a vital step toward reconciling black and white Australians….
With faces and bodies white and a digeridoo — an ancient wind instrument — blowing a deep drone in the background, Aborigines of the Ngunnawal tribe called on their ancestor spirits to welcome newcomers to Parliament in a ceremony held in a hall of the national legislature.
Rudd accepted the gift of a traditional “message stick” of welcome from Ngannawal elder Matilda House.
“A welcome to country acknowledges our people and pays respect to our ancestors, the spirits who created the lands,” said House, who crossed the hall’s marble floor barefoot and draped in a kangaroo pelt cloak to give her speech. “This allows safe passage to all visitors.”
Rudd has invited more than 100 Aboriginal leaders to attend Wednesday’s apology speech, and other dignitaries from business leaders to former prime ministers were also due to attend. A giant television screen was being set up outside Parliament House so people who could not fit into the legislature could watch the proceedings.
A big screen was also going up in Sydney so people could watch the national live broadcast of Rudd’s speech. Smaller, more private events were planned across the country.
Feb. 12, 2008
Formal government apologies
By The Associated Press
— Some of the formal apologies issued by governments around the world to oppressed or victimized groups:
► 2008: Australia’s Parliament apologizes for past government policies that “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss” on Aborigines who were taken from their families under now discredited assimilation programs between 1910 and 1970.
► 1998: Canada apologizes to its native peoples for past acts of oppression, including decades of abuse at federally funded boarding schools whose goal was to sever Indian and Inuit youths from their culture and assimilate them in white society.
► 1992: South African President F.W. de Klerk apologizes for apartheid, marking the first time a white leader in the country expressed regret for the system of legalized segregation that allowed 5 million whites to dominate 30 million blacks.
► 1990: The Soviet Union apologizes for the murder of thousands of imprisoned Polish officers shot during World War II and buried in mass graves in the Katyn Forest.
► 1988: The U.S. Congress passes a law apologizing to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II and offering $20,000 payments to survivors.
► 1951: West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer acknowledges the suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and the following year, Germany agrees to pay reparations to Israel. In 1990, the then East German Parliament issues an apology to Israel and all Jews and others who suffered.
Aborigines Plan to Sue Australia
Friday, February 15, 2008
Representatives for Australian Aborigines confirmed plans Friday to launch the first compensation lawsuits since a landmark government apology earlier this week for past abuses.
The cases, details of which were not released because they had not yet been filed, would be the first since Parliament formally apologized Wednesday to tens of thousands of Aborigines who were taken from their families as children under now discredited assimilation policies.
An activist and a lawyer representing some members of the so-called “Stolen Generations” of Aborigines said Friday as many as 40 compensation claims were being prepared in Victoria state.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has ruled out setting up a compensation fund for victims of the policies, which lasted from 1910 until the 1970s, and legal experts say the apology does not strengthen chances of compensation being won through the courts.
Several cases have been filed in the past but most have failed. Lawyers say proving the harm inflicted by the policies in a legal sense is extremely difficult.
“The legal landscape is no different to what it was yesterday or will be tomorrow,” said Hugh Macken, president of the New South Wales state Law Society, said in response to Wednesday’s apology.
Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard reiterated Friday that the government would not offer compensation to head off court action.
“We have said no to compensation,” Gillard told Fairfax Radio Network.
State governments have taken a similar stance, fighting compensation claims that have been lodged in the courts.
Lawyer Jack Rush said he was representing Aborigine Neville Austin, but declined to discuss specifics of the case. Austin also declined to comment.
A newspaper reported Friday that Austin intends to sue the state of Victoria for unspecified damages, alleging he was taken by authorities in 1964 from a hospital where he had been admitted as a 5-month-old baby with a chest infection.
He then lived in foster homes and orphanages until he turned 18, the Herald Sun newspaper reported.
His cousin, Lyn Austin, head of the state advocacy group Stolen Generations Victoria, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that dozens of lawsuits were pending.
An estimated 100,000 children were forcibly taken from their parents in an effort to make them grow up like white Australians.
Aborigine Bruce Trevorrow was awarded $700,000 in damages and interest this month from the South Australia state government. He was taken from a hospital without his parents’ knowledge 50 years ago.
Australia’s smallest state, Tasmania, is the only government to establish a compensation fund for Aborigines.
The state government announced last month it had paid 84 forcibly removed children and 22 of their descendants.
There are now about 450,000 Aborigines in Australia’s population of 21 million. They are the country’s poorest group, with the highest rates of unemployment and illiteracy. Their life expectancy is 17 years shorter than that of other Australians.
Australian apology to native people sets high bar for Canada: AFN
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations says the Canadian government should match an apology Australia has made to its aboriginal people….
AFN national chief Phil Fontaine said he hopes the Canadian government will make a similar move.
“It’s quite a statement. It’s of great significance — monumental. It’s a special moment for the country. It’s inspirational and sets a very high standard,” Fontaine said.
“We hope that Canada’s apology that was promised in the recent speech from the throne will be as significant and as full as sincere as the Australian government’s apology.”
The federal government’s last speech from the throne, delivered in October, indicated Prime Minister Stephen Harper would launch a truth and reconciliation commission into Canada’s aboriginal schools, and “use this occasion to make a statement of apology to close this sad chapter in our history.”….
In 1998, the Canadian government issued a “statement of reconciliation” which recognized and apologized to people who experienced physical and sexual abuse at residential schools. The statement was part of an action plan made in response to the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, which called for extensive changes in the relationship between aboriginals, non-aboriginals and governments in Canada.
Fontaine described the 1998 statement as a “statement of regret, rather than a full and sincere apology.”
Thursday, 14 February, 2008
Britain should also apologise to Australian Aborigines
Melbourne (PTI): Britain should follow its former colony Australia’s example by apologising to Aborigines as it bore “heavy historic responsibility” for policies which led to many children being forcefully taken away from their parents, a leading human rights lawyer has said.
According to prominent human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, Britain should also endorse the apology because English intellectuals had inspired the policy of seizing the children.
Robertson said Britain bore a “heavy historic responsibility” for the stolen generations and needed to apologise, the Herald Sun reported.
He said the policy of removing indigenous children from their families was based on the theories of English eugenics intellectuals, who believed aboriginality to be a degenerate trait and should be bred out.