National Sorry Day Committee event Stolen generations track home

Speaking notes of Helen Moran and Tiffany McComsey, Co-Chairs of the National Sorry Day Committee Parliament House, Canberra

21 May 2007

Helen Moran

Thank you Tiffany, as a Descendant of the Wiradjuri and Wongaibon Nations I would like to acknowledge the Ancestors, Elders and  their descendants of the Ngunnawal  people and I would like thank Aunty Ruth and Uncle Cecil for welcoming me here today.

The Inspiration for this campaign is the Australian Public,

I have travelled through out Australia over the past 8 years promoting and raising awareness about the Stolen Generations, the National Sorry Day Committee, Sorry Day, the Bringing Them Home Report.  And the 54 Recommendations to both children and Adults alike.

Through my presentations and facilitation  of lectures, workshops, performances and reconciliation camps I have been afforded the opportunity to hear the wishes and concerns from many non-Indigenous Australians.

These wishes and concerns have been directly related  to what they can do to make the difference for the Stolen Generations.

So often I have heard the words “We walked across the Bridge and we Signed the Sorry books, BUT WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE A REAL DIFFERENCE ???.

We need Aboriginal People to tell US how to help them, We need THEIR  DIRECTION  & GUIDANCE.

THE DIRECTION AND GUIDANCE they are asking for, is Already here  

It is the Bringing Them Home Report and it’s 54 Recommendations.

700 submissions and over 500 oral testimonies from members of the Stolen Generations Are the foundation of the Recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report.

These only represent a small proportion of all the Stolen Generations Children, That is all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were directly effected by the Forced Removal Policies from the 18th century and into the 20th century.

Many of the members of the Stolen Generations that I have had the privilege to spend time,  and talk with, say they want to be heard, they want to be consulted and they want to make the decisions for themselves and their future.

They want an apology and they want what is rightfully theirs and they also want to work hand in hand with non Indigenous Australians to accomplish these things.

I have been involved with the NSDC almost since it’s inception, 

I was one of the main instigators and negotiators and the co-ordinator and facilitator of the Journey of Healing launch.                held at Uluru in on May 5th 1999.

It was the launch of a campaign to initiate a process with the idea that the Journey of Healing would strengthen Sorry Day, The campaign for an apology and the fulfilment of the 54 Recommendations.  Unfortunately the Journey of Healing has been used to take the focus away from the very things it was suppose to support.

The Pity of this is that the NSDC has failed to adequately bring about the changes and success that it initially aimed for as the National Organisation that Advocated for the Stolen Generations.

The sad result of this is the ten years on 52 of the 54  Recommendations remain unfulfilled.

However as the newly appointed Indigenous Co Chair of the NSDC I can stand here today and confidently to tell you all, that since the recent changes in the membership and governance within the NSDC there has come new direction, reinforced commitment and a plan to move successfully into the future.

This is based not only on consulting with the Stolen Generations, but by acting upon the responses of those consultations in a way that genuinely represents their needs, and their wishes. 

As Tiffany indicated The NSDC 10 year Campaign “Stolen Generations Track Home, Walk Your Talk and Bring Them Home 54 Recommendations  by 2017, has an exciting and enrolling platform for all Australians, Non Indigenous and Indigenous, to be involved in.

This is through the launch and introduction of The Stolen Generations Track Home, the Australian Schools National Sorry Day, On Line Petitions, Letter Writing Campaign and the Pledge Books. And of course the way to access all the information regarding these components of the Stolen Generations Track Home Campaign is through the new and vibrant NSDC Web Site, Designed and hosted by Epimedia.

The "Stolen Generation's Track Home" is the symbolic representation of the thousands of silent and unseen tracks of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were taken away under the forced removal policies. The moment of removal of the first Stolen Child, was the birth of the first step in these Ghostly Tracks that are stamped all over the land of Australia, that linger silent and strong.

There are the tracks of horses and camels used to take the children away, there are the tyre tracks of trucks, cars and railroad tracks of trains, There are the foot prints of the authorities who took the children and those of the Stolen Children who were taken. There are the tracks of the mothers, fathers and families as they searched for their Stolen Children and the tracks of the Stolen Children trying to find their way back home. There are the paper trails, the records of truth, the stories of abuse, pain, heart break and death. All of these tracks belong to the Stolen Generations, their families and communities, and they also belong to the once silenced history of White Australia.

These silent tracks hold the history of the Stolen Generations, because it is the past, but it also lives in the present with the knowledge of the truth, the teaching of the past, the survival of the Stolen Generations and the need to BRING THEM HOME.

What we as Australians create now will be looked back on in their future, The Stolen Generations Track Home is also symbolic and representative of a new direction to the Recommendations being filled.

The "Stolen Generations Track Home" come in 2 different sets, the first set consists of six pairs of plastic feet that are the six different colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. The colours are Red, Yellow, Black, Blue, White and Green. These sets are called the Flag Set.

The second set is a set of 54 feet representing the 54 Recommendations, each of these sets consist of 4 pair of each colour, Red, Yellow, Black, Blue, White and Green, then an additional 3 pair of black as it appears on both the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal Flags. These sets are called the Recommendations Set.

The feet are held on a metal stake that are planted into the ground, setting the feet above the ground.  The feet also have double sided tape on them so that they can be stuck to various surfaces such as walls and windows.

We have the feet here with us today  and we invite you to participate in  the first public planting of the Stolen Generations Track Home.

Over the past nine years many schools through out Australia have held their own Sorry Day. This year the National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC) has invited every Australia School to participate in the AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS NATIONAL SORRY DAY.

The NSDC believes that the AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS NATIONAL SORRY DAY is a wonderful initiative to commence Reconciliation Week.

The Australian Schools National Sorry Day, is one component of the National Sorry Day Committee's Bringing Them Home Report 10 Year Anniversary Campaign.

It focuses on four of the Recommendations.

Recommendations 5a Apology, Recommendation 7a Sorry Day, Recommendation 8a Compulsory Moduels in Primary and Secondary schools on the history and effects of the Removal Policies and Recommendation  9a. Teacher training also on the effects of the removal Policies

 The NSDC has three on line Petitions.

These petitions support Recommendation 5a asking for an apology from the Prime Minister

Recommendation 8a Compulsory  modules in schools  and Recommendation 9a  Teacher Training. This petition specifically asks that  teachers  as professionals  who work with Indigenous children take up the challenge to lobby their State Education Department for funding to receive in service training about the history and effects of the forcible removals.

Since the Sorry Books were launched in 1998, thousands of Non-Indigenous Australians have written messages of empathy.

The Sorry Books presented an opportunity for Non-Indigenous Australians to express their recognition for the injustices experienced by the Stolen Generations as a result of the removal policies.

Sorry Day 2006 saw the Journey of Healing ACT network (JoHACT) launch Pledge Books in Parliament house, hosted by Senator Rachel Siewart and Shadow Minister Peter Garrett. One of these books has remained in Parliament House since Sorry Day 2006.

The NSDC has now adopted the Pledge Books as a National initiative.

We are here today to  launch the Pledge Books  nationally.

In doing so the National Sorry Day Committee is creating an opportunity for the Australian public to reconfirm and further demonstrate their commitment towards reconciliation, by making a pledge of support  towards the fulfilment of the 54 Recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report, ensuring Indigenous Australians the Equality, Justice and Human Rights, to which they are entitled.

The NSDC Invites Schools, Organisations, Community and Church Groups, Businesses and Corporations and Government Departments to create their own Pledge Book and register it on the NSDC National Pledge Book Register.

We have Pledge Books here today and I invite you all to take a moment to sign one of the books.

The 10 year campaign then moves into the ongoing active initiative that will encourage and support the Australian public to adopt recommendations and assist in bringing about their full implementation and fulfilment by the year 2017. With the receipt of Certificates of Promise members of the public and the recommendations they adopt will be registered, allowing the NSDC the ability to support, monitor and record the progress of the public’s success in achieving the fulfilment of the recommendations.

Whilst the NSDC’s 10 year campaign seeks to return the groundswell of grassroots community support for the Stolen Generations that existed when the findings of the Bringing Them Home Report were first released, the campaign also seeks a whole of government approach to fully implementing all 54 recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report.

The National Sorry Day Committee sees a two step process that will assure a stable and promising  foundation to accomplish the 2017 goal.

This requires active government participation at both Federal and State levels. It also requires Federal and State governments to adopt a whole of government approach and work together in full partnership and collaboration with the Stolen Generations.

In order to move forward, it is necessary to assess what has been done and what needs to be done.

The first step of the process then needs to be an independent audit of the implementation and fulfilment thus far of the Bringing Them Home Report Recommendations.

This needs to be done by an independent body, such as HREOC or the Federal Ombudsman.

The Second step I will  leave for Tiffany to present.

Tiffany McComsey

I would first like to acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people, past, present and future, on whose land we are meeting. Thank you both Aunty Ruth and Uncle Cecil for welcoming us here today. I would also like to extend a heartfelt thanks to Senator Siewert for hosting the National Sorry Day Committee 10 year campaign launch here today. A thank you must also be extended to our other guest speakers, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma and Senator Bartlett both of whom will be sharing their thoughts on the 10th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report and the issues facing Stolen Generations today. I would also like to thank all of you for making the time to attend this launch in light of the short notice you were provided with.

As most of you would probably have picked up on, I am not originally from Australia. I came to this country from a country whose history of colonization is not so different from the one experienced here. I was born in New York City and grew up in Westchester, around an area some of you have heard of in the story and film the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. I grew up knowing very little about anything relating to American Indians. My so called knowledge came through brief history lessons, annual Thanksgiving celebrations and reading the few news items that came into the New York Times or on the television, most of which related to the social problems plaguing American Indian reservations. These were places nowhere near to where I lived. They weren’t even places I was able to imagine myself or my family living.

Growing up, my brother and I used to go to a brother sister summer camp in upstate New York, near Lake Placid. For a week each summer, we would have ‘Indian Days.’ During that week, the camp was divided into different tribes, which we were told represented the tribes of the Iroquois Nation. In fact those tribes were not the ones that accurately represented the tribes which make up the Iroquois Nation.

Each tribe would elect a Chief, Sachem, assistant chief, assistant sachem and story teller. The story teller who kept the best journal for that week would earn points for his or her tribe. At the end of the week, which ever tribe had the most points would win. The games would open with the digging up of the hatchet and they would close with the burying of the hatchet.

During ‘Indian Days’, no members of the local tribes were asked to speak to us about the land we were camping on for seven weeks each summer. No respect was paid to the traditional owners by having them teach us the history of the land and people of that area. And we were definitely not told that American Indian children would have been removed from their families, similar in nature to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families and communities in Australia.

I wanted to use that little story to show how easy it is for Non Indigenous people in countries such as the US and Australia to either think they have a knowledge about Indigenous people and issues or to not be concerned with knowing contemporary issues relating to Indigenous people in their respective countries. In most instances, this knowledge would require a process of re-educating oneself about the past, and more than likely actually force one to understand and confront difference; Difference that is in regards to personal lived experience, personal understanding of the society one lives in, and the relationships one has to other people, in particular family and community.

Some of this ignorance comes from not living in an area where there are many Indigenous people. It also comes from not having been taught about these issues. One can also see this as lack of knowledge as a result of the silence that countries such as the US and Australia have when it comes to Indigenous issues, except when the media picks up on an issue or sensational story. Or when the government has an agenda it is seeking to push and a new solution to a ‘problem’ that always seems to elude it.

What I said may seem a bit discouraging, but I am not here to portray a no solution end game where Indigenous and Non Indigenous Australians are forced to continue in the same relationship that has existed in the past. I tend to think something else can exist. I prefer to think and act in ways similar to what Lilla Watson, a Brisbane based Aboriginal educator, meant when she said

If you have come here to help me you are wasting your time,
but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, let us work together.

This to me is what the work of the National Sorry Day Committee has come to see its role as, and the ten year campaign we are launching today allows for this to be acted upon.

May 26 2007 marks a special day in Australian history. It is not the queens birthday nor is it survival day. It is ten years to the day that the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in Federal Parliament. To refresh peoples' memory this is the report that bought Kim Beasley to tears in parliament, at a time when he was the national leader of the opposition. It was a report that shocked most Australians, as this is a history that not many people were aware of, a hidden history!

The Bringing Them Home Report enlightened the nation on government policies that allowed for the forced removals of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities. Assimilation and attempted genocide could have resulted had these policies of forced child removals continued. But the end of these policies was not so long ago. They were policies that were reworded as recently as the early 1970s.

For example, in 1968 in NSW, while rations were still being handed out on Aboriginal reserves, there were Aboriginal children being place in Aboriginal specific children’ homes as well as mainstream homes. Aboriginal children were placed in the large institutions, which was against the logic of the time in looking into the best interests of children in care. As well, the Board continued to separate siblings even though knowledge existed relating to the significant problems such separations furthered caused in children already suffering from having been removed from their parents.

I am 30 and there are Aboriginal women who are only six years older than me who are living the repercussions of these forced removal policies. Some of them are the daughters of parents who were removed from their families. These women were also removed from their parents, and now some of them are living without their own children, because they too have been removed from their care.

In ten years, the Federal government has committed only $116 million in response to the Bringing Them Home Report. There are still 52 Recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report that have not been fully implemented. We must ask: Where has the money gone? Why are the Stolen Generations still waiting for justice?

At the State and Territory level, Tasmania is the only State that has realised some form of monetary compensation for the Stolen Generations of Tasmania. All States and Territory Governments have apologised to the Stolen Generations of their individual States and Territories. But that is not enough. Link-Up programmes are under resourced – too many Stolen Generations are still waiting to go home. The Bringing Them Home Counsellors and social and emotional well-being programmes are not benefiting all Stolen Generations. MUCH MORE NEEDS TO BE DONE.

The NSDC 10 year Campaign to have the 54 Recommendations fulfilled by 2017, has an exciting and enrolling platform for all Australians, Non Indigenous and Indigenous, to be involved in. To understand where this campaign comes from and what we are looking to accomplish, I will now hand you over to Helen.

Helen Moran

The second step of this process is to bring together all Stolen Generations to listen to what it is they need and want. This though can only happen when all Stolen Generations are brought together in their individual States and Territories to discuss their specific business. These summits will allow for each State and Territory to assess where the needs of the Stolen Generations, their families and communities fit into the programmes that already exist, find out ones that are needed, and to face those issues of the Bringing Them Home Report which have yet to be satisfied, including but not limited to an apology, compensation, and more Indigenous control over current Indigenous child removals and early family prevention work to prevent even more Indigenous children growing up without their family, culture and identity. 

Within the next twelve months, after these State and Territory summits take place, a national summit will be held. This will address the findings of the State and Territory summits, and the outcomes of the independent audit of the implementation to date of the 54 Recommendations.This national summit will address the 54 recommendations and establish a framework to move forward with so all of the Bringing Them Home Report recommendations are fully implemented by 2017.

The members of NSDC and affiliated bodies view that the recommendations in the BTH Report need to be implemented in a manner that is transparent and allows Aboriginal people, who are not just bureaucrats or service providers, to be involved in all stages of the process, from policy development to the monitoring of government department’s claims of progress against any of the recommendations.