Indigenous Australia

Nine years after the Apology: We said sorry ... but are we really?

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(Image via Leticia Caceres‏ / @LetiC)

Nine years after acknowledging ills of the past, the fight is continuing for Indigenous Australians, writes Adrian Arndt.

THE 13th of February 2008 will always be a monumental day in the Australian calendar. A day that, for many, marked a significant shift in Australian history and in turn sparked a hope for a brighter future.

That was the day then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who declared:

“We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.”

These words – simple, but incredibly powerful – sought to bridge a self-inflicted gap between Australia and its First People. A Stolen Generation and years of inequitable support was finally acknowledged and seemingly embraced. 

However, now nine years on and with Australia’s political atmosphere under constant change, the question is what have we actually done to right these wrongs of our past? With the Australian media transfixed on the movements of Adele and Beiber, and Government bickering taking centre stage, the ninth anniversary of Rudd’s apology was met with deafening silence across mainstream Australia. At a time where dialogue around progress and achievement were more than warranted, their absence told a more pertinent story. 

In June 2016, a census released by the Productivity Commission revealed that almost 17,000 Indigenous children had been removed from their families since that pivotal day in February 2008. Of that 17,000, over 60% have been removed and placed into the care of strangers, and in doing so, a "new" Stolen Generation was being created. After years of toil, to have the "original" Stolen Generation acknowledged and decades after the government ceased removing Indigenous children because of their race, the number of young Aboriginal people in out-of-home care is at crisis point.

The parallels between the "original" and the "new" and scarily obvious. Numerous recommendations by experts that Indigenous youth be placed in the care of other Aboriginal people are being ignored. Cultural practices are being lost and traditional languages are being forgotten. The ills of the past are seemingly being relived as a "Government knows best" approach is again being applied to one of the world’s oldest cultures.  

This is not to say that some removals are not warranted. Compared to their non-Indigenous peers, Aboriginal children are seven times more likely to be subjected to or at risk of harm. This statistic itself paints a dangerous reality and by some can be used as ultimate justification of a child’s removal. 

However, we cannot let this tarnish an entire culture. It would be ignorant to position risk factors such as drug and alcohol abuse, family violence and neglect, as ‘Indigenous’ issues as opposed to societal issues that affect a much larger cross section of our population. This then begs the question as to why Aboriginal children account for approximately 35% of Australian youth in out-of-home care whilst they only make up 5% of Australia’s youth population.

This recent case of two boys being removed from their community in Arnhem Land and sent to be resettled in Darwin is a clear example of this disparity and the development of the "new" Stolen Generation. Placed in non-Indigenous foster care, without access to culture and tradition, the perceived benefit from their removal was being overshadowed by a rapid loss of identity and pride. In an attempt to have the boys returned to their community, the #OurKidsBelongWithFamily campaign began, ultimately resulting in their return to Arnhem Land.

Whilst this case became quite public, it masks a growing issue for Aboriginal communities and one that remains largely unaddressed by politicians. I am all for youth, whether Indigenous or not, to live in a safe environment. However, of almost equal importance is the opportunity for those same young people to have a sense of identity; which for Indigenous children is largely influenced by culture. 

The apparent development of this "new" Stolen Generation is at odds to the very essence of the Government’s apology way back in 2008. This Apology was made after years of campaigning and as the #OurKidsBelongWithFamily movement gains momentum, eerie similarities are beginning to emerge around Government intervention in Indigenous communities.

Nine years after acknowledging ills of the past, the fight is continuing for Indigenous Australians. It is this fight, one that should no longer be fought, that is destabilising communities and challenging what makes Australia a place that “embraces all Australians”.

You can follow Adrian Arndt on Twitter @aarndt20.

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