When 'sorry' is not enough

As the nation marks Sorry Day, Caritas Australia joins the Stolen Generations Alliance (SGA) in calling for a fresh national focus to be placed on truth, justice and healing for Aboriginal people who were removed from their families. True healing must include justice for Stolen Generations.

This year commemorates the 15th anniversary of the handing down of the Bringing Them Home report on the Stolen Generations, but there is still much work to be done to deliver justice to those who suffered and continue to suffer from being forcibly removed from their families.

SGA highlights the continued difficulty for those removed overseas in returning home. One of SGA's members, Leonie Pope, has been commended for her courage and determination to return home to Australia despite many obstacles. Leonie was adopted without her mother's knowledge and removed to Wales in the 1970s. She only returned to Australia in the last few years.

Leonie now works with the SGA to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander submissions to the Senate Inquiry into Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices.

Caritas Australia's Chief Executive Officer, Jack de Groot, recently stated:

The 2008 National Apology to the Stolen Generations was a high point in the history of our nation. It has been followed up with some excellent initiatives, such as the provision of Bringing Them Home Counsellors and the funding of Link-Up services to assist with the healing process. But there is much, much, more that remains to be done to achieve Justice.

SGA's co-chairs, Jim Morrison and Tina Louise, are determined that the spirit of Bringing Them Home and the Apology are backed up by effective action for Stolen Generations. In the words of Morrison:

For too long we have been chipping away at the edges ... without making a significant difference for many of those who have been most tragically affected. We have received reports that some families are now enduring their sixth generation of successive removals and this is just not good enough. We need to get to the core of these issues and resolve them properly.

The members of the Stolen Generations continue to face difficulties that relate to their experiences. A feeling of isolation is paramount among them. Severe isolation impacts socially, emotionally and financially. Some members have no one to turn to in times of need, are suspicious and fearful of mainstream services and often feel uncomfortable (for many reasons) using Aboriginal services.

Lack of access to records impedes the search to find family, home, culture and country. For example, the In Touch program provided through Centrelink has ceased. This was a key source for Link-Up services to find missing relatives. SGA reports that the government has been saying it will develop a similar program for more than a year to address this need, but this has not materialised.

Many members of the Stolen Generations are in need of practical assistance in a range of other areas, including aged care, funeral assistance — both in terms of returning to country to be buried and attending family funerals — health, housing, mental health support and trauma counselling.

Along with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, members of the Stolen Generations face unacceptably high rates of incarceration, poverty and lack of family support. Without emotional healing, the fundamental challenges for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, such as health and substance abuse, will continue.

In the end, it is difficult to imagine how justice can ultimately be done or healing achieved without other measures of restitution, such as fair compensation, redress and reparation. In this respect, the US Catholic Bishops' pastoral letter, 'Economic Justice for All', remains pertinent.

[T]he deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community. The extent of their suffering is a measure of how far we are from being a true community of persons. These wounds will be healed only by greater solidarity with the poor and among the poor themselves.

There is much scope for our national solidarity with members of the Stolen Generations to grow deeper through committed action, addressing their primary needs.

Mark GreenMark Green is the Group Leader of the Australia Indigenous Program at Caritas Australia. For three years he led Caritas Australia's Program in Timor-Leste. His most recent publication, 'The Love that Surprises: Lessons from Timor-Leste', is available from the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council. 

Topic tags: Mark Green, Caritas Australia, Sorry Day, Stolen Generations, Alliance, Senate Inquiry, Forced Adoption



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