Australia's ageing Stolen Generations are still struggling with the impacts of unresolved trauma, and need a new policy approach to assist them and their families to heal.
That’s a key finding of a major new report launched today by the Healing Foundation. The launch marks 20 years since the landmark Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament.
Called Bringing Them Home 20 Years On, the new report sets out an action plan to overhaul Australia’s Indigenous policy landscape.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged the pain and suffering of previous government policies.
"We acknowledge that this removal separated you from your families, lands, languages, cultures of 50,000 years your ancestors had protected and cared for," he said.
He says the government will carefully consider the recommendations.
"There is much unfinished business and today's report will guide us on the progress we are yet to make. As our stole Jenkinsration's members age, your needs are changing. We'll carefully consider the recommendations."
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the current generation of parliament need to do more than just commemorate.
"It is our turn to address inequality. It is our turn to address poverty. It is our turn to address the violence which is still breaking-up families and communities. Less paternalism, more empowerment. Less rhetoric, more action," he said.
He said the recommendation of a redress scheme needs to be taken up in Parliament.
"It's right and important both Labor and Liberal governments in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania are showing leadership on reparations, recovery and reconnection. And it's long past the time for us to have that conversation in this place too."
Healing Foundation Board Chair Steve Larkin said the failure to implement the recommendations of the original Bringing Them Home report has made matters worse for all Indigenous Australians.
“Our Stolen Generations haven’t been able to heal because Australia has failed to address their needs in a coordinated, holistic way. As a result, their grief, loss and anger is being passed onto their kids and grandkids.”
Prominent Stolen Generations member, Florence Onus, and Steve Larkin, offered Malcolm Turnbull the new report, emphasising the need for a bi-partisan approach to tackle inter-generational trauma in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Unresolved trauma amongst the Stolen Generations is being passed on to their children and grandchildren, increasing the incidence of crime, ill health and social disadvantage.
The Healing Foundation found the most pressing needs highlighted by the report are for:
- Federally coordinated financial reparations similar to the Commonwealth Redress Scheme provided to survivors of child sexual abuse
- a full analysis of the Stolen Generations changing needs as they age
- a national study on intergenerational trauma, its impacts, and the best ways to address
- ensuring all professionals who work with the Stolen Generations and their descendants – from police to mental health workers - are trained in recognising and addressing Indigenous trauma
Chair of the Healing Foundation’s Stolen Generations Reference Committee Florence Onus is one of four generations of women who have been forcibly removed from their families.
“I embarked on my healing journey when at 21, my mother attempted suicide. With family support I became her full time carer and together we began the journey of healing,” said Ms Onus.
Florence is passionate about breaking the cycle of trauma through healing, education, cultural identity and spiritual nurturing.
Gamilaroi and Wailwun woman Lorraine Peeters was forcibly removed from her family in Brewarinna in central-west New South Wales at the age of four.
Along with hundreds of other girls she was placed in the Cootamundra Home for Aboriginal Girls.
"We were brainwashed to act, to speak, dress and think white and we were punished if we didn't," she says.
"We were not allowed to talk in language or about culture or about our families. It wasn't until I was in my fifties that I suffered a mental health issue, trauma. There was an Aboriginal person inside, screaming to get out."
Today, Aunty Lorraine runs her own trauma healing program, Marumali Journey of Healing, to help other members of the Stolen Generations begin their own healing journey. She's also played a key role in the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations and hopes the government listen to the recommendations this time around.
"There's too many of us that are passing on now. We live in hope that things may happen but nothing has. We we still live in hope," she told NITV.
"[Trauma] is passed down the next generations, and that's behaviour that's known and we need to break this cycle, and to help families to heal."
Uncle Michael Welsh is a Wailman from Coonamble in New South Wales. He was eight when he and his brother were taken from his mother and five of his siblings.
They were taken to the notorious Kinchela Boys Home near Kempsey on the New South Wales mid-north coast.
"When we got there, they stripped us of our clothes, they shaved our heads, threw powder all over us, and they took us into a room, handed us some new clothes and said you are no longer Michael, you are no number 36," he remembers.
He says its important that the government helps rebuild the family structures that they took down.
"They need to talk to us and help us rebuild our family structure," he says.
"I took that horrible place into my own house, unknown what was going on, and when I seen the same thing that was happening to my children, I said this is not right. I gotta go and find help somewhere."