Sorry Day

Apology Letter

Since being in Australia, we’ve learned a bit about Sorry Day. If you don’t know, it’s a day set aside (since 1998) to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s indigenous population. An official and national apology was delivered by the prime minister (in 2008) that is a great step for healing.  I do understand the relations are still strained in places, but an official statement of apology and acknowledgement of wrong doings is still huge! Here is the apology:

I move,That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.We reflect on their past mistreatment.We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.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.We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

We missed the actual day (May 26) but have learned about the history and I’m very impressed. I think it is one of the most respectable and honorable overtures extended by any organization, let alone a government. 

We have noticed many signs and attitudes that express that we are on land that is traditionally under the stewardship or one tribe or another. Castlemaine and the surrounding area for example, is part of the Dja Dja Wurrung people. There are signs posted in official buildings and before events begin there is a Statement of a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgements of Traditional Owners

I hadn’t realized before arriving that there were many many different tribes among the indigenous australians. Here’s a quick map showing the different indigenous peoples:

The nation of Australia, was founded as a British penal colony. England was out of room in their prisons and they found a new land, so naturally, they wanted to exile prisoners to be the next colonists. I think they were just bitter about having just lost their last colonial project to rebellion. In my big picture of history the colonies in Australia started immediately after the Brits lost the American colonies. They had a war about it and in the end parted ways with their colonies, so maybe they needed a rebound. Captain Cook claimed the land for England in 1770. The American Revolution in 1765 – 1783. Then in 1787 the First Fleet departed from Great Britain for Australia to begin European colonization. They started this new colony by deporting their convicts and exploiting yet another land that didn’t belong to them. In the US, I’ve learned about the treaties made between the Native American tribes and the colonies, but in Australia they made no treaties. They saw the indigenous Australians and savage barbarians and didn’t count them as human. As in the americas, disease followed the settlers and wiped out many of the natives at first contact. Then they simply removed any indigenous people that were in the way. There were plenty of laws created to strip the aborigines of their families and rights and very existence. Decades passed, a century passed with not much change. Between 1910-1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies intended to “civilize” them.

The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the Stolen Generations. This caused intense generational trauma to the indigenous peoples. Many lost their language and culture as a result. This special culture who has existed undisturbed for 40,000 years in Australia. The longest unbroken beliefs and myths are Australian. There are even new studies that are proving aboriginal people were the first agricultural people in the world. They have suffered greatly with the “invasion” from the British. Their land has been exploited for gold and other minerals and land taken for farming and grazing pastures for sheep and cattle. Anyways, if you’re familiar with any world history you’re no stranger to a native culture’s mistreatment by a “Western” or “White” or “European” or so-called “Civilized” people. Africa, the Americas, Australia, Pacific Islands, etc etc etc.

Anyways, that’s enough of my history soap box. Australia has publicly said something that not many other countries or governments or even organizations have said. They’ve been mature enough today to say “Sorry”. They even commemorate it with a national sorry day every year. I think it’s fabulous! They are acknowledging that their history is tarnished and they want to correct the wrongs. The first step to making things better is admitting past failings.

I think many other countries could take a lesson here (The US, UK, Spain, France, Portugal etc). Many other places have been exploited. Whole people have been exploited even, stolen from the coast and sold into slavery only because they didn’t have guns to fight back or defend themselves. I think the South, no, the whole United States could work to repair some racial issues with official apologies for slavery and racist laws. Maybe that would go a long way rather than the arguments around removing statues/monuments for fear of appearing to support certain old (yet wrong) ideas. There are many reparations to be found with our past (and current) treatments of our own indigenous people, so many broken treaties and trails of tears. Other organizations have things to apologize for as well! Perhaps it’s something churches with troubled pasts could learn maturity in this as well. There are many stories of child abuse and churches more interested in defending their good name than in defending real victims, it’s never too late to man up and own the error and make things better! My own Mormon tradition could benefit from some heartfelt apologies and acknowledgement of wrongdoings (polygamy/polyandry, racist teachings as doctrine, homophobic tactics, shaming, even some excommunications, etc). It takes a lot of maturity to recognize past faults and even more to come out publicly and apologize! I’ve heard many times that an organization (church or country) should not apologize because it’s a sign of weakness… I call bull. I think that it’s a sign of strength and honor and even love. While Holding back on an apology is a sign of immaturity. It takes a lot of bravery and vulnerability to say sorry and own up to something you’ve done wrong. There’s a song that I learned as a child that has stuck with me, “Do what is right and let the consequences follow”.

We can see examples of good and integrate that good into ourselves. This has become part of my focus in our nomad travels. Find good (wisdom or maturity or love) and work to integrate that into my life. Granted, this can be done at home too, (so you have no excuse) but it has helped me to break out of the bubble and comfort zone of home and see new places and new people even new problems and new solutions.

The Aboriginal Flag

To continue this Australian Sorry story, last year in 2017, the Aboriginal leaders of Australia gathered together and came up with a statement asking for representation, called the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Sadly, it has been rejected by the Australian Government. Hopefully things can work out still, but this shows that just saying sorry is not enough. It’s a first step and we must continue on the path of rebuilding to make a real difference. Still, I’m super impressed with the respect and maturity the Australian nation has shown. Good on ya, mate.

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