Introduction by Croakey: Reports and inquiries, reports and inquiries . . the Stolen Generations survivors have been the subject of many. But despite millions of words on paper, there has been no systematic government response to the needs and rights of the Stolen Generations and the intergenerational trauma suffered by their families.
Midway through National Reconciliation Week, Steve Larkin, chair of The Healing Foundation, writes in the article below that it’s time for urgent policy reform from all governments to make healing happen for a growing number of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.
Steve Larkin writes:
National Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week are not dates on which we get together as Australians to celebrate our past achievements. They are reminders that we can and should do better.
They remind us of the intergenerational trauma that remains in our communities and our commitment to build an Australia that can heal. It is a time for all Australians to commit to healing the nation.
Each year on 26 May we acknowledge Sorry Day to mark the anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report in the Australian Parliament in 1997, which detailed the history of the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families under laws enacted by Australian governments.
The report gave voice to the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants – stories that have been denied, ignored, or forgotten.
Despite the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations, and many other inquiries – there have been more than 20 reports in the last 12 years alone – there has still been no systematic government response to the needs and rights of the Stolen Generations and their descendants.
This week we are reminded of the urgent need for policy responses from all governments, for workforces to be trauma-aware and healing-informed, to better the health and welfare outcomes and make healing happen for a growing number of Stolen Generations survivors and descendants.
The Reconciliation Week theme More than a word. Reconciliation takes action reminds us of our commitment to prioritise and amplify the voices and experiences of Stolen Generations survivors, their families and communities.
We learnt this recently with COVID-19. While it can be argued that Australia’s response to the pandemic was largely successful when compared to other parts of the world, there are key lessons to be learned to prepare for any future pandemics, especially for those most vulnerable in the community.
Work done by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group on COVID-19 ensured that infection rates were very low in First Nations populations. Only minor outbreaks were recorded, and they were quickly contained. It was Stolen Generations survivors themselves who highlighted significant findings across 23 social and emotional wellbeing indicators that should assist governments and the broader public health sector to plan for future pandemics and build on Australia’s world-leading response.
Stolen Generations survivors have long told us what they need to heal. The most important question now is what do survivors need right now as Australia emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and finds its way to a new normal?
Survivors and their families have endured a lifetime of trauma, grief, and loss. As a result, they carry a significant burden of health, wellbeing, and social and economic deficits. They are ageing, and many live with disabilities and complex health problems, including poor mental health. They have increasingly complex overlapping needs yet face barriers, mostly systemic in nature, to accessing services. And they are worried about their families’ futures.
As we acknowledge Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week, we share the message that healing is about restoring the wellbeing, strength of spirit, family connections, and lore that has made our cultures the oldest living cultures on earth. Healing enables people to address their personal distress, overcome trauma, and live well. We aim to bring about change that can deliver better outcomes across education, health, and social and emotional wellbeing.
We are urging all Australians to reflect on Australia’s true history and commit to playing a role in the healing of the nation.
Our message is strong and simple: Commit to ACTION. Build on STRENGTHS – of culture, spirit, and our status as First Nations peoples. Tell the TRUTH. Do no more HARM. And end RACISM.
Professor Steve Larkin is chair of The Healing Foundation.
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