Uluru & Kata Tjura National Park, Australia. Photo by Ondrej Machart.

National Apology to the Stolen Generations – 13 February

The shifts in attitude to our ‘National Day’ (26 January) were plain to see this year, as we watched the hugely diverse crowds in largely peaceful protest marches across the land (despite Covid) and listened to the reflections of Australians of all ages and nationalities. They reminded us yet again of what is truly of the essence of who we are and who we are called to be as a nation.

What a long time it seems since Kevin Rudd took the radical step of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, as the very first act of his Labor Government on 13 February 2008. As members of the Australian YCW (Young Christian Workers), our group attended the public rally at Parramatta. It was a truly moving experience of recognition, pain, loss and deep anguish – feelings well known to our many Sisters who have ministered with our First Nations peoples for so long.

In the Sisters of Saint Joseph Apology in 1999, we spoke of our sorrow for the “many injustices suffered by the dispossession of land and culture.” Our commitment at that time to solidarity and justice have become embodied in our continuing support and in our advocacy at this moment of our history for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The words of the Prime Minister in 2008 seared into our hearts and have been used since that time in our ongoing reflections:

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.

Responding on behalf of First Nations Peoples, Tom Calma, a member of the Human Rights Commission, called for healing and reconciliation:

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians – 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.

The responses of the First Nations peoples who were in Canberra in 2008 affirmed all these emotions, and the depth of longing for reconciliation and healing for us all.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is the logical outcome of this call. As Josephites, we approach the Federal Election, acknowledging our yearning for reconciliation and for the wholehearted acceptance of the Statement.

Jan Barnett rsj
Josephite Justice Co-ordinator
Josephite Justice Network