Today marks the 11th anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations. From 1910 to 1970, up to one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (100,000 children) were forcibly removed from their families and sent away from their communities. They were classified according to their skin colour and put into Christian missionaries where they suffered abuse and neglect, or they were placed with White foster families who did not understand their needs. These children were forced to forget their language, culture and spirituality, and in many cases they were not told of their Indigenous heritage.
The Bringing Them Home report of 1997 gathered evidence of the impact this cultural genocide had on Indigenous Australians, showing that it led to intergenerational trauma, poor health, and socio-economic issues. The report made 54 important recommendations to end the cycle of violence against Indigenous Australians.
Twenty years later, Indigenous children are being removed from their families up to four times the rate.
Join the Grandmothers Against Removals, protesting forced adoptions law in NSW. Their ethos is that: ‘The best care for kids is community.’ Below are my live-tweeted comments, beginning at the Archibald Fountain in Sydney.
There are three large police vans and one police car here already. Observations of police presence at the Invasion Day protest (where the Grandmothers Against Removals also spoke) creates undue community concern.
‘Shameful that today we’re standing close to halls of power of Government that will steal our children again.’ Ann Weldon, member of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council gives the Welcome to Country. The organisation fights for land rights, manages community land in metro Sydney (from the top of Yengo National Park down to the Georges River) and promotes awareness of community and culture.
‘Our children need to know we fought for them.’ – Hazel Collins
Hazel Collins is one of the founders of the Grandmothers Against Removals. She has been protesting the ongoing trauma and removals of the Stolen Generations, every year, on this day, her birthday, since 2014.
Michael Welsh, who is one of the Stolen Generations, shares his family story. His parents, himself and his children were all kidnapped by the government at different points in time, taking years to reunite due to the racist system which kept them apart.
Doreen Webster, part of the Stolen Generations, leads advocacy on behalf of the survivors from Cootamundra girls’ home. She spoke about the trauma we are creating for a new generation of Aboriginal youth, through forced adoptions.
Paul Gray, from AbSec (Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat), speaks next. AbSec is an Aboriginal-controlled peak organisation that empowers children, youth and their families impacted by the child protection system. He notes it’s appalling that survivors of the Stolen Generations, like Michael and Doreen, were not consulted in the creation of the new forced adoption laws.
David Shoebridge, Greens Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council says that the government spends $1.2 billion to steal Aboriginal children from their families and communities, but only one sixth of this on funding to keep families together.
Shadow Family and Community Services Minister, Tanya Mihalik, says that adoption laws harm marginalised Aboriginal families. Labor put in 29 amendments to safeguard legislation on forced adoption, all rejected by the Government. Targeted early intervention funding is needed. Labor will repeal this senseless law.
Minister Mihalik says there was no draft exposure bill, which is not the best way to implement such legislation. Consultation papers were only released two days before the forced adoption legislation was introduced – just after Sorry Day. There was no proper debate in Parliament. She says: ‘This is poor legislation it needs to be reversed. Sorry means you don’t do it again.’
June Oscar AO is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. She is currently fighting to get back her grandson who has been put in out of home care.
‘We want support. We want Government to include us in co-design of policies that affect us.’ – June Oscar AO
‘We’re Black women. We don’t give up and we are strong.’ – June Oscar AO
We then marched to stop forced adoptions. ‘What does sorry mean? You don’t do it again.’
‘Adoption. No way, we’re gonna fight it, all the way!’
The fight against forced adoption led us to the front gate of the Parliament of New South Wales, where we listened to more speakers.
David Shoebridge MP spoke once more, saying that structural poverty means families can’t get their kids back within the two years before they’re put into forced adoption. Forty percent (40%) of kids in out of home care are Aboriginal. Since the Bringing Them Home report into Stolen Generations in 1997, Aboriginal kids are removed at five times the rate.
He reminds us that eleven years ago, former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered the national apology to Aboriginal people for forced removals. Today, Aboriginal kids in NSW represent the biggest proportion of children being removed nationally, at double the rate of other states. Politicians say sorry, but it’s still happening.
Hazel Collins then discusses the impact of forced removals on children, their health, and safety.
‘Laws that allow removals are genocide.’ – Hazel Collins
Doreen talks about the pain of growing up as a child, never being able to hug her parents, as she was removed and put into a girls’ home.
Michael talks about hope for the future. ‘We need to keep coming together to end removals.’
Hazel hugs her daughter, who survived having her four children removed. The family is finally reunited. But thousands of families are still separated. Hazel says this can’t keep happening. The legalisation would tear them apart forever, though forced adoption.