Between the years of 1910 and 1970, many indigenous children from Australia and Torres Strait Islanders were removed from their families under government mandated policies of forced assimilation. This policy, based on racial ideals of white superiority and black inferiority, proposed that indigenous communities should be allowed to systematically die out through natural elimination. Where possible, the black communities should be assimilated into the white family model. After years of silence, the country issued a formal apology for their wrongdoings.
The Stolen Generations
Children taken from parents and re-homed from what is now coined “The Stolen Generations” were taught from infancy to reject and indigenous heritage and adopt white culture. Forbidden to speak their native languages and given new identities through new names, these children were either adopted into white families or placed in institutions similar to orphanages which were notorious for abuse and neglect.
Policies for assimilation tended to focus on children who were more likely to be able to adapt to the “ideal” society, rather than fully indigenous adults. Called “half caste,” children with fairer skin were more vulnerable for removal, as the authorities thought they would be able to assimilate co white communities easier as a consequence of their lighter skin color.
The reverberating effects of the stolen generation can still be felt today. For the children who were taken, many suffered severe physical, mental and sexual abuse. These children grew up being highly ashamed of their indigenous heritage, and medical experts have noted high instances of depression, anxiety and PTSD among the group.
The Inquiry & Apology
The Australian government launched a preliminary inquiry into their policy of forced assimilation in 1995. A full report was submitted to the parliament in 1997, which surmised that anywhere between 10% and 33% of all indigenous children were separated from their natural parents between 1910 and 1970. In addition, the “Bringing Them Home” report concluded that child removal breached fundamental human rights.
The first form of apology occurred in 1997, where a motion was passed in the Parliament to
…apologise to Aboriginal families in Western Australia for the past policies under which Aboriginal children were removed from them and expressed deep regret at the hurt and distress that this causes.
On February 13th, 2008, Australian PM Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology on behalf of the Parliament. He appointed the leader of the opposition, Dr. Brendan Nelson, to chair a committee to develop and implement a new housing strategy for remote communities and build bipartisan agreement that indigenous peoples would be recognized in the country’s constitution. In addition Australians observe National Sorry Day each May 26th to commemorate the mistreatment of the aboriginal people.