Thursday, February 14, 2008

Saying sorry

Can't let pass without mention news of Australia's official apology for the treatment of its aboriginal people. (photo credit) On Wednesday -- or, to use the label given in Australia, "Sorry Day" -- the country's newly installed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, read his "sorry speech" to Parliament. In it Rudd, on whose rapid ratification of the Kyoto Protocol we posted a while back, introduced a motion for an official apology by the state. Here're a few of the opening paragraphs:
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
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.
We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
The event's set off a flurry of self-examination in the country -- multimedia surveys of historical and contemporary treatment of indigenous peoples, reaction stories from a cross-section of Australians. In Canberra, as some people protested continuing intervention in aboriginal lands, others queued up to witness the speech. Throughout the country, an estimated 1.3 million people watched the speech live on TV. Elsewhere, crowds watched on big outdoor screens, and gave "thunderous applause", at least in Sydney, at the end. Some opposition remains, and debate on Rudd's motion continues.
The move's had global repercussions, too. In Manitoba, the leader of the Assembly of First Nations said "the Canadian government should match an apology Australia has made to its aboriginal people." And was made by barrister Geoffrey Robertson, a former Sydney resident now based in London who'd litigated a case on behalf of indigenous people from Tasmania and, incidentally, used to be an appellate judge on the Special Court for Sierra Leone, issued a call for Britain to do the same. As for native peoples in the United States, not much, it seems, save a glancing mention in a New York Times blog-editorial in praise of Australia.

1 comment:

Hope Lewis said...

Glad you posted on this Diane. I got the word about it from Professor Penelope Andrews (CUNY/ Valparaiso), a scholar of human rights abuses in South Africa and Australia.

Cynics will argue that, without a full acknowledgment of legal responsibility, the apology is not enough. And it is not. But it meant a great deal to the indigenous Australians most affected and to millions of indigenous peoples throughout the world as your post points out.

The socio-economic and political rebuilding that must accompany such apologies remains to be seen. But the words and ritual themselves (may) galvanize further positive legal and social changes.
--Hope Lewis "Miss Lou"