10 years ago today I was standing in Martin Place in Sydney, watching then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd make history by apologising to the members of the Stolen Generation for the wrongs that had been done against them under the policies of previous Australian Governments.
I stood with a group of Aboriginal women, my colleagues who have spent their careers trying to make a difference and make things better for our people. Some of these women are members of the Stolen Generation. We cried, we hugged and we cheered. There was a sense of relief, weight lifted off shoulders and hope for a new beginning, a way forward where true healing might finally begin. We cried for each other, our families who have all been effected by those policies and the future generations who will also be effected by the trauma that came before them. We cried for those family members who had not yet made their way back to our families and for those who we knew, might be lost forever.
It was a great day, filled with so much promise and today I commemorate that historic moment. I think about the impact those three words – I am sorry – had that day. The impact on those who were stolen; those who were left behind; the communities that have since struggled to pick up the pieces; the mothers; the fathers; the children; the aunts and uncles; all suffering a loss that I cannot even truly begin to understand, despite watching the devastating impact on my community every day.
I am sorry. Such powerful words and such a momentous day.
But today, I also reflect on how little progress we as a nation have made since that great day. Aboriginal people still face appalling racism, we still deal with people who do not know or acknowledge the struggle Aboriginal people faced and how resilient our communities are. We are still faced with poor government decisions, a lack of consultation and outcomes that fall short of the national averages. It is time for Australia to move forward but it can’t do that without acknowledgement, understanding and a commitment to change. The Apology could have been the start but in my opinion we didn’t have the education to support the necessary change. We need strong Aboriginal education for all Australians. We need to build a shared knowledge base and create an understanding of Australia’s true history and work from there. It is not going to be easy and like this country’s history, it’s certainly not going to be pleasant but it is necessary and it is time. It is not about blame. It is not about guilt. It is about acknowledgement, respect and understanding. It is about healing.
I hope that you get to some of the great events being held around the country to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the Apology and take a moment to reflect on what the Apology meant for all Australians, particularly for the Stolen Generations who will forever live with the consequences of abhorrent government policy.
The new school year always has me reflecting on change.
The change in my children as they embark on another year of their education. Their maturity and strength growing as their physical appearances change, those tiny babes I held not so many years ago, transforming into independent strong young people before my eyes.
The changes in their peers as they also grow and develop more independence and forge their own paths. The new friendships they make, and just as importantly the friendships they leave behind.
The opinions and values they share, evolving as they are exposed to more of what this world has to offer, and these experiences influence the person they are becoming and the impact they will ultimately make on the world.
And as I watch them, I can’t help but notice the world around us is also changing. We are an ever evolving society and while I think this is a good thing, I can see that not everyone is as comfortable with the changes.
Aboriginal Education is one of these changes. Everyday I can see the barriers breaking down as educators and parents are more open to including Aboriginal perspectives in the classroom daily and are starting to see the benefits of these inclusions.
We are seeing changes at all levels of education, increases in the amount of inclusions of Aboriginal perspectives in all levels from early childhood through to university. And with that comes a recognition of how important including this information in formal education is. Inclusion of Aboriginal perspectives supports the development of a shared knowledge and a way forward. It helps with healing for Aboriginal people who still deal with the trauma of past practices every single day. It reduces racism, it builds confidence in Aboriginal kids and it ultimately helps create more equipped future leaders by encouraging empathy, understanding and awareness. These skills are important to prospective employers who are increasingly looking for staff who understand issue impacting on Aboriginal people and are able to contribute to social responsibility initiatives being implemented by organisations.
Change is here. It is slow but it is beginning. Kids today are starting to learn the things that have been missing from education for far too long and I think Australia will be better for it.
I hope the first few weeks of school have gone well for you and you're enjoying the changes unfolding before you.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.