The National Apology: What it means to us

February 13 marked the 11th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, acknowledging the past laws, policies and practices that have inflicted profound grief, loss and suffering on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Each year we invite our community and local services to come together to reflect on the Apology and recognise the trauma, grief and loss that Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander people endured years ago and are still experiencing today. This year we came together for a high tea at our Koolyangarra Aboriginal Family Centre, where we shared a delicious feed while we reflected on the significance of the apology.

On the day, high school student, Reece Nuttall addressed the crowd and. spoke about what the Apology means to him.

We value the voices of the people who we work with so this year we asked some of our Aboriginal staff to share their thoughts on the National Apology.

When we asked Rodney Matthews, NCNS Program Manager – Casework, for his thoughts on the National Apology he replied, “The apology to me is not about what happened in 1788 or what happened to my ancestors. The apology to me is something that people alive today had waited their whole life to hear. The bad things that happened to us, the terrible things, the things that were part of government policy, happened to people still alive today. People like my grandmother and my mother. Also, people passed like my grandfather and grandmother on my other side. The very people whom had all shaped my understanding of the world. The apology gave us all hope that the future will be better, wrongs will be made right.

The apology itself is a teachable moment. If we turn a blind eye and pretend the problem never happened, then how will we as a nation avoid these mistakes in the future.  The apology to me is about the government taking ownership of their mistakes and saying we were wrong, sorry we won’t do it again. Its fundamental in teaching the next generation the right way forward. History is our greatest teacher, learn from the past and never repeat it. That is the way we teach our children. You do something wrong to someone you apologise and promise them you won’t do it again.”

Amy Lear, NCNS Aboriginal Early Childhood Worker described what the Apology means to herself and her family, “It means to me that they apologised for all the wrong doings to the past generations. My Nan is alive today and for her to hear this was an emotional day for all of our family. It’s important to celebrate each year to show the future generations and to be able to come together and share stories, connect and learn from each other.

I’m always sharing with my children what happened to the past generations, what my Nan had gone through and how this has changed today.

There is still a long way to go we need to share awareness and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities still suffering today.”

Carolyn Gilbert, NCNS Team Leader – Early Childhood talked about the trauma caused by the policies, practices and laws within her own family.

Carolyn explained “My grandmother was removed at the age of 3, and there were previous generations of removal within my family under The Child Welfare Act. My grandparents had to carry around Citizenship’s papers that denied their Aboriginality to be able to obtain work.

I remember when the National Apology was delivered by the government all those years ago, I felt a sense of hope. When I reflect on the apology today, I feel that not much has changed. There is still a lot of work to do. Programs shouldn’t be delivered from top to bottom, they should be delivered from the bottom up. Early intervention funding is being taken away and going into child protection and rates of out of home care and incarceration are getting higher.”

The Closing the Gap framework established in 2008 recognised that a national effort was required to address indigenous disadvantage. 10 years later the Closing the Gap Report 2019 states that only 2 out of its 7 targets are on track to be met. These targets include:

  • Child Mortality
  • Early Childhood education – on track
  • School attendance
  • Life Expectancy
  • Year 12 or Equivalent – on track
  • Reading & Numeracy
  • Employment

NCNS is proud of its record of Closing the Gap in the preparation of Aboriginal children for school. We have significant numbers of children who are now school ready through the interventions of our early childhood and family services. We see ourselves being very effective in that area and we also see ourselves being very effective in the area of Closing the Gap in chronic disease and mortality through the work of the Closing the Gap team and the Community Development team.

The most important thing, as service providers is a consensus to address health care, education and equity & equality. NCNS will continue to advocate for Aboriginal children and families and to work towards Closing the Gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

The National Apology was an important step towards reconciliation, but we still have a long way to go.

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