Northern Territory Member for Nhulunbuy, Yingiya Mark Guyula, and the family of two children in out-of-home-care have made a heartfelt plea for the Northern Territory government to find better ways of keeping children with their families.
Last week Guyula took the unprecedented step of using parliamentary privilege to name nine children currently in out-of-home-care.
He said the children had been 'forcibly' taken from their families, accusing the government of not following kinship placement protocols.
Guyula wants the nine children to know, ‘you are loved,’ and ‘you are not orphans.’
“We are sorry you have been stolen from us. We are sorry we couldn’t do more in the face of a system that threatens our existance. We are sorry that we lost hope for a moment; perhaps we should have been braver. We want you back,” he said.
The names of the children have been removed from Hansard, and the Children's Commissioner labelled Mr Guyula's actions as 'indefensible.'
But speaking to NITV, the member for Nhulunbuy said he had a duty as a Yolngu man to name the children.
“I had to name nine children according to our law, Indigenous law, because the parents and the guardian were anxious to hear as much information as possible,” he said.
“The NT government are not following the law. They broke their own law,” he said.
Guyula said in some cases, Territory Families is not exhausting all options to keep the children within their families or communities.
“I can assure there are families within the community that always have safe arms,” he said.
“They think they know what is best for our children, and there is question for me to ask, why is the government doing this?
“That is something that we want to sit down with the government and have a dialogue about.”
A statement from Territory Families said regular meetings have been set up between the Minister Dale Wakefield and Guyula, “to discuss matters relating to child welfare in eastern Arnhem Land”.
The statement reads:
“The meetings between Ms Wakefield Mr Guyula will occur during parliamentary sittings.
“Labor went into last year’s Territory election with a commitment to strengthen and expand kinship care and the out-of-home care system.
“Integral to this is a requirement to work closely with Aboriginal organisations, communities and families. This work has commenced but there is still more to do.”
Guyula said he is hopeful their conversations will be productive.
"We just need to communicate a bit closer, to understand each other, so how we can work to raise up our children,” he said.
“I want to see all the children taken back onto communities. Because it's heartbreaking, it's a trauma. It hurts. The grandparents, the mothers, and fathers out there are still weeping and crying out there today, where are their children?”
“Once you’re in their web, it’s hard to get out if it”
The grandfather of two children Guyula named in his speech last week told NITV he had hardly slept since his grandchildren were taken from their community in the Territory’s north-east, three months ago.
“I’ve never been hit as hard as this... I just feel quite empty.” he said.
The grandfather lives in Sydney and has been fighting for their custody since they were taken from his son in the NT.
The grandfather said an out-of-court conference in January, involving the family and government, resolved to have the children sent to Sydney to live with him. But he told NITV it could be five weeks or longer before he sees them.
He believes Territory Families did not follow protocol, and place the children with family members who could care for them, and argues that family members in their home community, as well as himself and his daughter, were not properly considered as carers for the children before they were taken away.
The children are currently living in Darwin with a non-Indigenous family, and the process to get them back has taken three months so far.
“It’s a huge bureaucracy. Once you’re in their web, it’s hard to get out if it,” The grandfather said.
In the meantime, he is concerned the boys are losing their connection with their culture.
“The carers aren’t using their [Aboriginal] names. We called them up about a week ago, and… the older boy, said to his aunty, ‘no don’t speak that language to me, I’m not allowed to speak it,” he said.
“I’m really worried about them. I’ve had people who worked in the area, say when a child is in care for three months they start losing their connection to family. And it’s been just over three months now.”
“When they come to me I really want to sit down with them, time and time again, and say ‘you’re with family, you’re staying here, we’ve got you and we love you.’”
Campaign to bring boys home goes viral
Another family member of the two boys, actress Rarriwuy Hick, started an online campaign last week to raise awareness about her family’s fight to get them back.
In a video posted on her Twitter account, she said children are still being removed from their families nine years after the apology to the Stolen Generations, and asked users to spread the hashtag #OurKidsBelongWithFamily.
The hashtag has been used hundreds of times, and included support from celebrities and people overseas.
NITV News has contacted Territory Families for further comment.