Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Australia's Apology to Aborigines

Australia stands tall among the nations of the world; its people, earning renewed respect and admiration, for initiating the healing process that will bind its diverse population, and forge a unity based on mutual respect, harmony, equality and co-existence. Like no other nation on earth, it has acknowledged the culpability of its past governments three generations ago, in implementing a policy that brought untold suffering and profound grief to its aboriginal people. It has used its overwhelming superiority to humbly seek an apology, rather than conceal a wrongdoing; it has used its absolute authority to make amends for the mistreatment, rather than perpetuate it; and it has used its mandated power to soothe rather than deepen the pain and psychological trauma of a gentle race.

The apology was delivered by Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who made the Aboriginal apology part of his election campaign. Rudd spoke of the "stolen generations" of Aboriginal children who were removed from their families beginning in 1910 up to the 1970s, for purposes of integration and protection. The objective may have been noble but the impact of its implementation resulted in lost familial bonds, cultural disorientation, and psychological maladies; where the children often lived in harsh conditions and were subjected to untold abuses. The indignities and dehumanization of the Aborigines started when state and federal laws developed a premise that the Aborigines were a doomed race, and saving the children was a more humane alternative. This policy remained a secret until 1997 when a government inquiry and a high profile movie exposed it; sparking a mass movement among white Australians demanding an apology. This policy was in essence barbaric and regarded the Aborigines as less than human.

The admission of guilt is believed supported by a very significant majority of Australians. Former PM John Howard maintained that the current generation should not be held accountable for the misdeeds of the past, and offered regrets instead. Under Howard's term, the Aboriginal issues received very little interest and sympathy from the Conservative Coalition government. Howard's indifference welled up in a riot in inner Sydney in 2004, resulting from years of frustration and anger. The way in which the Police handled the conflict generated more attention towards building stronger relationships with Aboriginal community leaders. Howard lost to Rudd in last November's election in what many Australians regarded as Howard's End.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up the largest group estimated at 450,000 people. The entire Aboriginal community in Australia is estimated at 750,000, of the country's 21,000,000 population. A 2005 Social Justice Report shows that Aborigines have a life span 17 years lower than whites, and their infant mortality rate is 3 times that of the non-indigenous rate. They are likelier to have chronic and communicable diseases, poorer mental health, and disabilities. Their average income is only 62% of the standard, they have lower education, more likely to be unemployed, have higher stress rates, poorer access to primary health care, have inadequate diets, are are most likely law breakers. As Prime Minister Rudd expressed..."the apology is symbolic, but there's a lot of hard work to be done to reverse those inequalities."

Some segments of the conservatives disagree with the apology, arguing that Aboriginal compensation claims will be reinvigorated. They see a scenario where future generations will be sorry for this act. But the welcome received for the first time in 107 years by the members of Parliament, from the Aborigines, seem to dispute the conservatives' fear. Performing a traditional dance that welcomed the lawmakers and provided safe passage to the edifice that stands on their land, for which they haven't been compensated; Ngunnawal elder Matilda House explained the protocol : "It is a good, and honest, and decent and very human act to reach out and make sure everyone has a place and is welcome." This tradition has been done for thousands of years. It has twice more of the substance of humanity embedded into it than those who conceived of the policy of integration, which was nothing but inhumanity and a disgraceful blow to the respectability of Australians.

Reconciliation will soon follow, and this generation of Australians will be proudest of all, for they have accomplished a feat that roused a moral rebirth and reaffirmed the singular purpose and unified destiny of mankind: as coequal and coexisting guardians of the earth. We are one.

And to the Lakota Indians and other tribes in America, and elsewhere in the world: your time will come to pass. Hopefully before your race is wiped out.



ZenDenizen said...

Reminds me of the "Indian School" exhibit I saw at the Heard Museum in Arizona.

Tapline said...

Because I have not studied or read extensively about the plight of the Aborigine in Australia, I am not qualified to make an assessment. I can however relate to the treatment American Indians received at the hands of foreigners, who invaded this land and either obsorbed the indian population in New England or pushed them westward as they continued to colonize these United States westward in their manifest destiny. I don't think they took the children to educate in their schools they did provide schools on their reservations set up for the tribes by the federal government. and forced them into these sites to live apart from the general populations. They felt these were savages and simple as children. Recently, I read a book written by a Army General and he spoke of the Native Americans as children. I have also read speeches given by Indian Chiefs they were articulate and certainly not the words of children. Some individual states and the federal government have been sued for monitary damages and won. I am not advocating lawsuits, God forbid, I am merely saying I don't think they were treated fairly by neither the government nor the citizens of yesteryear.
....I ramble....stay well.....

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Zen,

There are similarities between the Indians and the aborigines in terms of body paint, environmental balance, oneness with nature, and ancestral spirits. There are also differences like skin color, hair texture, etc.

However, the differences are just physical while the similarities are cultural and spiritual. Australia today learns about ecological preservation and protection from the aborigines.

In America, much of the Indian population have been wiped out and it's culture and practices obliterated. Some tribes have managed to preserve most of these but their population is fast depleting.

Glad to know you're fine, up and about.Happy Valentines! --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Tap,

In terms of more recent history, the Aborigines were placed under a policy of "integration" that was cruel and abusive. This was from 1910 up to 1970; thus you will see why the tribes are so emotional about this. The policy was stopped only 38 years ago and a lot of those who were forcibly removed from their families remain alive.

In terms of history as in from 1778 when the Europeans arrived, the Aborigines were largely ignored, and since no media openness existed at the time, we can only rely on stories. Most of these are similar to those of the American Indians. While there were no "pacification campaigns" conducted against the Aborigines, unfair treatment and bullying were said to have existed as a natural consequence of racial discrimination.

Note that when the "stolen generation" policy was made public, majority of white Australians took to the streets to denounce the policy and demanded an apology. That was 11 years ago. The Aborigines have received the apology; now the healing begins.--Duran, done!

Kim said...

Excellent post Durano...
and I feel very proud to be Australian....I will never forget the first time that I saw images and paintings that depicted the horrific abuse that the Indigenous People suffered at the hands of the so called 'civilised population'...
'they' have a lot to answer for and saying I'm sorry is the first step towards the healing ....

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

If I was Australian, I would be very very proud!! I'm glad to know you feel that way. I wanted to broadcast this event through this humble blog just to make other nationalities realize the importance of seeing mankind as one.

When I was a kid, I used to hear stories about discrimination in the US and elsewhere, Australia included. I wondered about his and also thought about the aborigines in our own land and my feelings about them. I resolved then to tell my friends and playmates not to taunt them as they were also human. They couldn't believe me since I was the mischievous little tyke who instigated a lot of nonsense; but I was always sensitive to how other people felt and how they carried on in their lives.

When I was 12, (no internet and computers yet) I had a pen pal in Newcastle, NSW, Australia, who was so kind and generous with explanations and things, that made me disbelieve all the previous stories I heard about the country. As always, the policy makers and their selfish interests made this policy a secret. If it was for humane purposes, why keep it a secret? Too bad though the communication with her ended - blame it on snail mail. :-)

Thanks again for the award, and the visit. --Durano, done!