27 May 2015
by Natalie Crombe

Sorry Day sadness and the widening gap

Yesterday was Sorry Day — and there is much to be sorry about. We are now now than seven years on from Kevin Rudd's Apology to the Stolen Generation, yet Indigenous People are in an even worse position today than they were then, writes traditional owner Natalie Cromb.

Yesterday was sorry day, which has been commemorated since 26 May 1997 when the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament, which documented the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their parents over several generations.

On Wednesday, 13 February 2008 in the House of Representatives, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made history when he apologised on behalf of the Government to the Indigenous community of Australia — particularly the Stolen Generations.

I remember this day. I remember tears streaming down my face as I listened and let my mind wander to all of my ancestors and living family members who have been affected by government policy over the decades and the devastation those policies have caused within my family.

I remembered the pain that was often masked as anger; I remembered the depression that was masked as apathy and often labelled laziness; I remembered the fear and suspicion of authority — especially welfare services. To this very day, I fear I am a helicopter parent to ensure my child comes to no harm and never hurts herself lest there be questions from the authorities on my fitness as a mother. This is conditioned into us as Indigenous people because we see mothers losing their children without cause and we see children coming to harm in care when they should be with their families and communities.

While listening to the words spoken in Parliament, I saw the faces of the many elders present there, who were overcome with emotion that, finally, their pain was put to words by the leader of the nation and, finally, the leader of the nation was ready to put their hand up and apologise. That day was an emotional one for the Indigenous community, but it was particularly so for the victims and families of the Stolen Generations experiencing trans-generational trauma.

I remember that day as though it was yesterday; the feeling I get when I hear the Kevin Rudd’s words:

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.
- Kevin Rudd PM

When I heard those words and felt their depth and truth, I felt hope. I felt that this was a turning point. I was invigorated, and inspired that the hard work, activism and advocacy of leaders in every community was going to be given the focus and weight it deserved. I honestly thought that the suffering of our people was something we could say was in the past and the new sense of pride could be not that we are surviving but that we had overcome the hurdles of the past. When you want something bad enough, you will believe anything won’t you?

The pain of the let down?
Immeasurable.

We are now seven years on from that momentous day and are now having more child removals than ever following the Northern Territory Intervention, which was later shown to have been launched based upon a malicious lie.

Australia is a nation built on the theft of land, and the brutal murder, rape, massacres and genocidal policies to rid this land of the traditional owners. This was a very profitable endeavour considering Australia’s annual GDP is USD $1.56 trillion. The last 227 years of occupation have been very profitable indeed for Australia, however the lives of the Indigenous population become ever more bleak.

We may have ceased official genocidal policies, but we have a racist judicial system that incarcerates for things as small as the non-payment of fines by those living in poverty and, when compared to non-Indigenous counterparts that often receive quashed sentences or community service for the same acts, the racism of our judicial system becomes quite unequivocal, however unreported it may be. In fact, our Indigenous incarceration rates are worse than that of apartheid South Africa.

We have a police enforcement system that brutally murders restrained and gaoled Indigenous people with very little recourse to the officers that perpetrate such abhorrent acts of violence.

We have a system that continues to degrade Indigenous people to the point where depression is so severe that we have the highest suicide rates in the world, Despite this, all frontline mental health services are being cut beyond their ability to carry on. And, in November last year, the Productivity Commission into Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage released its report into the Government’s attempts to "close the gap". The findings illustrate that the great hope of the Apology in 2008 has been lost.

We are removing children at a rate of over 400 per cent of the rate of removal at the time of the Apology and the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous children crept wider with an increase from 8.7 to 43.6 care and protection orders per 1,000 children — a 500 per cent increase in disparity.

We are closing remote communities to grant mining leases to those companies that profit from the mineral resources of the nation, employ foreign workers, take their profits overseas and fail to repatriate the scarred land when they’re done.

The Gap is widening, the statistics are glaring and Indigenous Australians continue to be told to get over it.

The covert racism that once was has had its veil lifted and overt racism flourishes under this government. Overt policies that subvert Indigenous people are fine when you have Indigenous leaders (token leaders) agreeing with you, right?

Seven years on from the apology, I mourn for the hope that I once had and dig my heels in for the many battles ahead for my people and this land that we belong to.