Friday, May 25, 2007

The "sorry" issue

Sunday will mark the 40th anniversary of an Australian referendum allowing the indigenous aboriginal population to become citizens of their native land. Indigenous Australians still await an official apology from the Australian federal government for its decades-long practice of forcible removal of mixed-race aboriginal children from their families in order to "assimilate" these children, known as the Stolen Generations, into white Australian society, with the goal of eventually "absorbing" the indigenous population. In the words of the Family Court of Australia:

[T]he dispossession of Aboriginals from their land '[w]as a conflagration of oppression and conflict which was, over the (19th) Century, to spread across the continent to dispossess, degrade and devastate the Aboriginal peoples and leave a national legacy of unutterable shame'[; this] represented 'the darkest aspect of the history of this nation'. There can, in our view, be little doubt that on a more directly personal level the policy of Colonial, and later State, administrations in Australia to systematically remove Aboriginal children from their parents and place them in institutions or other care and the consequences of that can be described in equally strong terms.
A report issued 10 years ago by Australia's Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission concludes that the Australian government's systemic policy of forced removal of Indigenous children constituted a crime against humanity, and potentially genocide, and calls for an official apology, compensation, and guarantees against repetition. Yet Prime Minister John Howard has repeatedly refused to apologize on behalf of the federal government, and most recently has promoted the forcible teaching of English to Indigenous Australians:
I have always held the view that the best way to help the Indigenous people of this nation is to give them the greatest possible access to the bounty and good fortune of this nation and that cannot happen unless they are absorbed into our mainstream.
The political opposition disagrees, noting:
We teach our children to say `Sorry' because it does not seem to come naturally to children. It is an adult undertaking to say `Sorry.' If the federal government, through our Prime Minister, can say `Sorry' on behalf of the Australian people, it will be a sign of our maturity. Saying `Sorry' is the place to begin the healing process, for from the expression of sorrow comes the possibility of forgiveness and, from forgiveness, reconciliation.
'Nuff said.

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