• Eileen Cumming says she's overwhelmed that her fight for justice for NT Stolen Generations survivors is paying off. (SBS/NITV)Source: SBS/NITV
A $379 million reparations scheme will aim to compensate survivors of the Stolen Generations, with individuals eligible for $82,000.
Keira Jenkins

5 Aug 2021 - 4:22 PM  UPDATED 5 Aug 2021 - 4:24 PM

Eileen Cummings was forcibly removed from her family when she was just four years old.

She remembers playing on the homestead's verandah at the station where she lived, when a man pulled up in a truck, asking if she wanted to go for a ride.

The next thing she knew, they were driving away from the station.

"I was removed from my mother, my Country, my people, everything, and put into an institution at Croker Island," Ms Cummings said.

"We were removed because we were classed as half-caste children.

"...For the first few years I cried and cried because I wanted my mother."

For years, Ms Cummings has campaigned for reparations to compensate Stolen Generations survivors in the Northern Territory.

Now, at 78 years old, she's finally won her fight. 

"My granddaughter was still at home, she hadn't gone to work yet, she was calming me down. She said 'it's okay nanna, it's finally happened, let's be happy'.

The federal government announced on Thursday a redress scheme for Stolen Generations survivors in the Northern Territory, ACT and Jervis Bay Territory.

Survivors who were aged under 18-years-old when they were forcibly removed from their families will now be eligible for a one-off $75,000 payment, with another $7,000 as a 'healing assistance payment'.

Ms Cummings said she was overwhelmed with emotion when hearing the announcement.

"This morning when I first got the news, I was crying, I was excited," she said.

"My granddaughter was still at home, she hadn't gone to work yet, she was calming me down. She said 'it's okay nanna, it's finally happened, let's be happy'".

'We've been listened to'

The scheme has also been welcomed by peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, including the Healing Foundation, which works with Stolen Generations survivors.

Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth said it's a significant point in the healing journey for Stolen Generations survivors.

"This change is big," she said.

"We've worked tirelessly since we were established to make sure we elevate the voices of survivors. We know that they've been listened to.

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"That's why it's so positive."

But Ms Cornforth said there is still more work to do to ensure healing and closure for survivors.

"Whilst a scheme like this is helpful and it does demonstrate that we’re being heard," she said.

"We know that it is just a step in the journey that must continue and there’s a lot of hard work to come with the national agreement and implementing it but... we’re definitely up for it."

'Died waiting for recognition'

The $378 million redress scheme is open only to living survivors of the Stolen Generations. 

But there are many who died waiting for reparations.

In April, a class action against the Federal Government was launched by Stolen Generations survivors in the Northern Territory.

Shine Lawyers, who launched the proceedings against the Commonwealth, said they're "unable to say" how Thursday's announcement will impact the legal proceedings.

They "cautiously" welcomed the scheme, but said they "are disappointed to see that the announcement is silent on reparations available for the descendants of First Nations Australians who were removed from their loved ones".

The redress scheme has been announced as part of new Closing the Gap measures, negotiated between the Federal Government and the Coalition of Peaks.

The coalition's lead convener Pat Turner welcomed the scheme, but acknowledged those who are not able to see these reparations.

"Our people have waited a long time for compensation for Stolen Generation survivors," she said.

"...It is important recognition. I also know, however, that there are many survivors that have died waiting for this recognition, my mum being one of them."

Ms Turner also called for Western Australia and Queensland, which still do not have a redress scheme, to step up.

"You're the last ones to come on board and it's high time that you did the right thing in a human rights context, to make sure that our people are receiving the right redress as soon as they can," she said.

For Ms Cummings, it's not about the money, it's about winning the fight that has been fought for decades.

"I said I don't even care what the figure is, I'm just happy that the government has finally made this decision because how long have we fought for it, for so long," she said.

NT and ACT Stolen Generations survivors set for redress payments under new $379 million reparations scheme
The announcement is part of a wider $1 billion package aimed at helping achieve Closing the Gap outcomes.