National Sorry Day, 26 May

Grief, suffering and injustice were the result of the ill-informed government policy that forcibly removed more than 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families from 1910 to 1970. 

“Subsequent generations continue to suffer the effects of parents and grandparents having been forcibly removed, institutionalised, denied contact with their Aboriginality and in some cases traumatised and abused,” the final report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, the Bringing them Home report, tabled in federal parliament on 26 May, 1997 stated. 

As we mark National Sorry Day – a day of remembrance for the generations of families affected by those traumatic events – in the year of the referendum that proposes a Constitutionally enshrined Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it’s wise to acknowledge that then, as now, there was no mechanism guaranteeing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples a direct line of communication to the Australian parliament about laws and policies affecting their lives and communities. 

The report’s observations illustrate the consequences of failing to entitle Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to have a say over policies and laws that affect them and the case for being involved in decision making: “For the majority of witnesses to the Inquiry, the effects have been multiple and profoundly disabling.… Psychological and emotional damage renders many people less able to learn social skills and survival skills. Their ability to operate successfully in the world is impaired causing low educational achievement, unemployment and consequent poverty. These in turn cause their own emotional distress leading some to perpetrate violence, self-harm, substance abuse or anti-social behaviour.” 

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