15 years on – learning from history and looking forward

Guardian Shona Reid and the team at the Apology Day march

Written by Guardian Shona Reid

The 13th of February 2008 is one of those days that you look back and remember exactly where you were on that day. For me, I was on the banks of the wonderous Karrawirra Pari (aka the River Torrens, River of the Red Gum Forest), here in Adelaide, in front a big screen, squinting my tear glassed eyes amongst a sea of thousands of people, watching the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd offer the long awaited Apology to the Stolen Generations. 

The Stolen Generations era is one of the grossest violations of human rights to affect First Nation peoples historically and its lasting effects impact life trajectories and outcomes for First Nation peoples to this day. These violations were purposefully legislated by successive Australian governments as a legal means to ‘wipe out’ First Nation families, community and cultures within generations through forced removal of First Nation children from their families and assimilation into ‘civilised’ (non-First Nation) families. I encourage you to all read the Bringing Them Home Report if you haven’t already done so.

The use of forced removal of First Nation children from mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings and communities was a very real thing that has embedded itself in the consciousness of every First Nation family network across this nation and abroad. Its legacy continues today with the displacement and disenfranchisement of First Nation peoples, with the effects manifesting in intergenerational trauma and the isolating and negative impact this has on people’s quality of life and life outcomes. 

The 13th February 2008 was the start of the healing process for many; the recognition of hurt, acceptance of responsibility and the desire to reimagine was and still is a promise that means so much. 

This day resonates with me both personally and professionally with my family directly impacted by the Stolen Generation era. There was devastation as well as courage in my own family to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma – some with success and some without. Professionally, I find myself in a unique position as a First Nation woman who is also the Guardian for Children and Young People here in South Australia, charged with responsibility to independently oversee how ‘well’ children and young people travel through the out-of-home-care system. 

Each year I take the opportunity to remember that promise through the 2008 Apology, I think about the progress we have made from year to year. I struggle with the slow meandering pace in which ‘progress’ is made, that Aboriginal children and young people remain nearly four times as likely to come into care and grow up disconnected from their families and isolated from their cultural heritage. Efforts to connect children to culture and families is sometimes too hard and time consuming for the system to cope with, when active efforts can be celebrated as ‘outstanding practice’ rather than a ‘fundamental right and service’.

Whilst I see progress and acknowledge the work of many – I believe it is still all too slow – every day, week, year, another generation grows up without their fundamental human right to connect with family and culture. If we are to go beyond ‘Sorry’, we need to be purposeful, we need to be direct, we need to do better and we need to do it now. 

The Apology was 15 years ago – for some that is two generations in care. Let’s learn from history and invest in families, culture and connectedness.

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