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Australia to apologize for Aborigines’ pain

SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) — The Australian government said Tuesday that it will apologize for years of mistreatment that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on the country’s Aboriginal people.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a motion in parliament on Tuesday that contains the apology. Lawmakers plan to vote on it Wednesday, and it’s expected to pass unanimously, said a spokeswoman for Jenny Macklin, the minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

We apologize for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians, the proposed apology reads.

The apology deals in particular with generations of indigenous children who were taken from their families by the government. Those children became known as the Stolen Generations.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for the families left behind, we say sorry, the text reads.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

For 60 years, until 1970, the Australian government took mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families and put them in dormitories or industrial schools, claiming it was protecting them. As a result of the policy, stolen children lost contact with their families and heritage, received poor education, lived in harsh conditions, and often endured abuse.

The policy was largely a secret until a decade ago, when a government inquiry and high-profile movie exposed it. That sparked a mass movement, supported by many white Australians, demanding an apology.

Former Prime Minister John Howard refused to offer an apology, saying the current generation should not be held accountable for past misdeeds. He instead issued a statement of regret.

Rudd, who defeated Howard last November, made an apology part of his election campaign.

The apology … is … very much just the first step, Macklin’s spokeswoman said in the capital of Canberra. We have serious inequalities between indigenous and nonindigenous Australians. The apology is symbolic, but there’s a lot of hard work to be done to reverse those inequalities.

Mary Farrell-Hooker counts herself among the Stolen Generations and is now a spokeswoman for an Aboriginal activist group.

She is of mixed race and was one of 12 children of alcoholic parents. Her father was in jail for raping her sister when her mother was hospitalized after a suicide attempt.

The police came to the school and told me they were taking me to the hospital to see my mom, Farrell-Hooker told CNN. We never went to the hospital.

Instead, Mary, then 12, was taken to a series of foster centers. At one of them, she said, she was repeatedly raped by a white house father.

He would actually come into the room and force himself onto me, rape me, molest me, she said. If I didn’t do what he wanted, he would threaten to do the same to my sister and (threaten to) split us up.

Her parents came to find her, she said, but were repeatedly turned away. She tried to run away but said the police always returned her to her tormentor.

Aboriginal people have been waiting decades for an apology, and the Australian public appear to welcome the government’s move, according to CNN’s Jacqueline Head in Sydney.

Head said many Australians believe saying sorry is long overdue, but some doubts remain over what it will achieve in the long term — whether it will help open doors for Aboriginal people seeking rights and compensation or whether it will fail to secure indigenous people a better future.

Some white Australians don’t believe the apology will bring about reconciliation.

I think Australians will be sorry for many generations for offering this apology now, said Piers Akerman, a conservative commentator.

He said Aboriginal compensation claims will now gain new vigor.

To symbolize what the government hopes will be a fresh approach to the future, a group of indigenous Australians performed a traditional welcome ceremony Tuesday of dancing and singing to mark the start of parliament’s new session. As the traditional owners of the land which parliament sits on, the performers welcomed the lawmakers onto it.

For thousands of years, our peoples have observed this protocol, said Matilda House, an Aboriginal elder at the ceremony. It is a good and honest and decent and very human act to reach out to make sure everyone has a place and is welcome.

Rudd said the apology was part of the healing of the nation and was meant to turn a new page in the country’s history. It notes a painful past and resolves to give equal rights and opportunities to every Australian.

Macklin’s spokeswoman said the apology is not intended to impose guilt or attribute blame.

We just see it as acknowledging the injustices of the past, she said. We say we can’t deny the past, but we can learn from it.
Australia to apologize for Aborigines’ pain – found here.

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February 12, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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