Stolen Generations forum marks Apology anniversary

At Hoppy's town camp, Alice Springs.

Members of the Stolen Generations, their families and supporters are commemorating the seventh anniversary of the national Apology with a forum in Canberra.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

It's been nearly 18 years since the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in federal parliament.

That report revealed the debilitating impact that the removal of children from their families had on Aboriginal communities across Australia.

What followed over a decade later was a national apology in federal parliament to the Stolen Generations.

Members of the Stolen Generations, their families and supporters are commemorating the seventh anniversary of the national Apology with a forum in Canberra.

Darren Mara reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

This is from the 2008 apology from then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the Stolen Generations:

"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 or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country."

Mr Rudd's speech was widely applauded across the spectrum of political parties and Indigenous groups as a step towards reconciliation.

Now, seven years later, prominent members of the Stolen Generations have gathered at a special forum in Canberra to discuss the enduring challenges for the healing process.

"I didn't need the apology, I don't think. But, when he said sorry to my parents, it was something I really needed to hear."

That's Aunty Lorraine Peeters.

Aunty Lorraine was forcibly removed as a child and has devoted years to helping other members of the Stolen Generations heal.

She spoke of the deliberate attempts by authorities to split her from her family - even from her siblings, who were also taken from their mother.

"We were put in Cootamundra to be trained as domestic (workers) for white families. I was taken about 72 years ago. So, in that time, there hasn't been a great deal of things that have been done to help with this trauma. And I'm not only talking about my trauma as a Stolen Generation, I'm talking about the trauma of the race itself."

Aunty Lorraine says much of that trauma remains unaddressed to this day, despite Kevin Rudd's apology on behalf of the nation.

She is calling for a return to the recommendations of the "Bringing Them Home" report, published in 1997.

The report spoke of broken ties to family, community and country that resulted from the removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

It highlighted the diminished physical and mental health that has resulted from psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

And the loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land for those taken.

Aunty Lorraine says trauma training is integral to overcoming these challenges.

"I was flabbergasted to hear there's not too many people in this country who know how to do that. So, those recommendations, everything the Stolen Generations needed, is in the Bringing Them Home report, but we don't go back and visit that enough."

Ian Hamm is a Yorta Yorta man removed from his family when he was three weeks old, in 1964.

He's described the loss of identity he felt as a young Aboriginal man growing up in a country that was predominantly white.

"What does it mean to be me? I know who I am in terms of having a mum and a dad, I have sisters and a brother, mum and dad's natural son. But what does it mean to be Aboriginal? People tell me I'm Aboriginal, but what does that mean? My only source of information was what people told me and what I saw on television. This is the '60s and the '70s, and that wasn't great."

Ian Hamm says growing up in the country Victorian town of Yarrawonga, he was advised he should apply for a job as a council worker.

It was advice he did not heed.

He would go on to become director of Aboriginal Affairs in Victoria and is on the Koori Heritage Trust board.

He's also involved in numerous initiatives aimed at empowered Aboriginal people.

"That has been my personal way, if you like, of rationalising, dealing with the personal issues that still are not resolved. When I say heal, for me, I don't think you get over it, you get used to it. I still only have one photo of my mother who gave birth to me. It's enormously frustrating when people say to me I'm like my mother. I don't know what that means."

Mark Bin Bakar is an Indigenous musician, comedian, writer, director and rights campaigner.

He says his mother was a member of the Stolen Generations, and, like so many others who were taken, it did irreversable harm to her.

Mr Bakar insists reparations should be an essential part of reconciliation efforts.

"So all genuine Stolen Generation people have a right to be compensated. The amount of wealth that's ripped out of this land at the expense, since colonisation, of Aboriginal people is a crying shame. A lot of the wealth doesn't even permeate into mainstream Australia. It goes overseas."

Mark Bin Bakar says the national apology to the Stolen Generations by Kevin Rudd was long overdue.

But he says current Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, hasn't capitalised on the resulting goodwill - specifically referring to Mr Abbott's second annual Closing the Gap address to parliament this week.

"Our Prime Minister made a statement: 'Until Indigenous people fully participate in the growth of our country, all of us are diminished.' That's what he said. Well, why can't it be the other way around? Why do Aboriginal people have to come to what he called 'our country'? And then he demoralised Aboriginal people in the same sentence. I hope he doesn't stop my funding, by the way."



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