13 February 2008 - I remember the day so vividly. My family at the time: my ex wife and former mother-in-law all seated silently around the television listening to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivering his National Apology to the Stolen Generations. My then wife’s grandmother, a member of the Stolen Generation herself, taken from her family in the Northern Territory, and placed into foreign care; the flesh and blood of my children, directly affected.
I recall the heartache of the day, there were many tears, as the first peoples of our country - a people who lived, loved and replenished this land we lived on for thousands of years - finally received a recognition, an acceptance of responsibility, that what had happened to our old people as a result of colonisation was horribly wrong and that the country truly, was sorry. We could begin our healing process.
Not only could I see the raw emotion in my own household, but also in the wider community. I spoke to many elders, aunties and uncles whom were affected by these atrocities, and it was apparent that we could all finally sense some healing
In approaching the 10 year anniversary; the decade between February 2008 to February 2018, I reflected on Rudd’s words and asked myself, 10 years since the national apology, how much healing has really happened a nation?
On a larger scale, there has - unsurprisingly - not been a true healing.
When we ask the Aunties and Uncles, if they have healed; the answer is no. The physical abuse may have subsided in time, but you sit and ask members of the Stolen Generations if the emotional trauma and scars, from the physical, emotional, verbal, psychological and sexual abuse have subsided; they tell you that the scars from those traumatic experiences are as raw as if they had happened yesterday. Aunties and Uncles are tragically still waking from night terrors, thinking of the physical and psychological abuse they endured.
Of course words will never erase the pain of past events. However, many members of the Stolen Generations still found hope in the National Apology's message - hope for a just and equal future, and hope that could provide some small sense of mending.
But has the Apology remained a beacon of hope over these last 10 years? And if not, then what has it done? Who has it served to benefit, and more importantly, who has it benefited?
if the Apology hasn't hasn’t benefited our old people, then who has it benefited?
Painful times throughout the Australian calendar, most notably 26 January (Australia Day), we now hear pro-Australia Day arguments such as; ‘you had the Apology, what more do you want?’. And this for me is key. It’s not a matter of ‘what we want’, but more so, what others can do to heal the rift.
10 years on from the National Apology, we still see First Nations Australia, overrepresented in many concerning statistics.
It’s not a matter of ‘what we want’, but more so, what others can do to heal the rift. 10 years on from the National Apology, we still see First Nations Australia, overrepresented in many concerning statistics.
Our life expectancy, although slowly on the improve, is still 10 years less than our non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. We are overrepresented in the deaths of diabetes, cancer, and even though the Rudd government made goals to improve the mortality rates of our children, today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders infants and toddlers still tragically die at 2 times the non-Indigenous rate.
We are seeing numbers of young people in out-of-home care that suggest more Indigenous children are being removed from their families than there was during the Stolen Generations. We also continue to have some of the highest rates of suicide throughout the globe.
All this and still, as a country, we continue to celebrate our national day on the date the marks the original invasion. A day that unlawfully robbed a proud peoples land, a day that lead to massacres of thousands on thousands and a day that lead to an attempted genocide of the country’s First People.
So it begs the question; if the Apology hasn't hasn’t benefited our old people, then who has it benefited?
"We said Sorry, what more do you want?!"
With racism and racial divide still evident, one might ask, whether this Apology was a tool given to the Government and the wider community to wipe ‘white guilt’ from their hands? And more so, whether it unconsciously created a new avenue of bigotry, one that has equipped people with the response, ‘We said Sorry, what do you want!?’. Now that the Government has apologised, others can neglect to face up to racial inequalities in society.
One might ask, whether this Apology was a tool given to the Government and the wider community to wipe ‘white guilt’ from their hands?
When seeing statistics soar in many areas, and the Federal ‘Close the Gap’ campaign heading backwards in many areas, again we ask, has the Apology done anything to physically help heal our people from a treacherous past? Words will never fully erase the pain and that's exactly the problem.
Was it a sign of tokenism for that moment in time?
Millions of dollars in funding stripped from Indigenous-specific organisations and tossed towards non-Indigenous organisations to ‘fix’ our communities, when the one thing utilised to heal our people for thousands of years, costs no money and was taken away from us to practice - traditional culture. How can we heal when our resourcing is coming from a non-Indigenous perspective of ‘what will fix us’?
We have a non-Indigenous person as the country’s Minister for Indigenous Affairs, who has made comments that reflect he is out of touch with community across the entire nation.
Our people took part in a consultation process, seeking the advice from communities, which delivered The Uluru Statement from the Heart, from the people (which included some of the best experts and thinkers in the country); by the people, only to have it rejected by Government. Our people talk of truth and treaty; yet our truth is constantly rejected.
Are we really any closer to a “united country”?
We have had the National Apology - a significant moment in regards to reconciliation in this country - yet the Government approves an ongoing intervention that interrogates and treats our people as if they are sub human.
While the recommendations in the Bringing Them Home Report was to have an official apology on behalf of the Federal Government for forcible removal of children - the real National Apology isn’t in words.
An authentic Apology would be resourcing us to enable us to heal. To revitalise, accept our traditional culture as a way of healing; taking note of what the people on the ground have to say and helping us heal us; not deciding what heals us.
Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri man, is a former NRL player, professional boxer, author, motivational speaker and influencer. Follow him @joewilliams_tew