National Sorry Day is held on 26 May each year – the day before National Reconciliation Week. It is a day to acknowledge and recognise members of the Stolen Generations. The theme this year is “For the mothers and children”.
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer – SORRY DAY REFLECTION
As a mother, I cannot imagine having to bear the heartbreaking grief of having my child taken away from me.
As a daughter, I cannot imagine being removed from my mother and never seeing her again.
I have listened to the stories of women and men, who are part of the Stolen Generation, and who continue to live with the trauma of their removal from family, land, culture and spiritual connection.
I lament that as a Church we supported their removal, as part of a government policy, that lacked understanding, compassion and respect for First Peoples and undermined their culture and ability to determine their own lives and flourishing.
As the Uniting Church, we are truly sorry for the ways we have contributed to the trauma and loss experienced by the First Peoples of this land, and to the wounding and scarring of our life together.
The evidence of our sorry needs to be seen in our actions – in our truth telling, in our advocacy for justice for First Peoples, in our deepening of relationships between First and Second Peoples and our shaping of new communities of mutuality, equity, dignity, respect and healing.
We stand in solidarity with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress of the Uniting Church and reiterate the words spoken by President Jill Tabart in 1994:
“We seek to journey together in the true spirit of Christ as we discover what it means to be bound to one another in a covenant.”
The Uniting Church in Australia supports the remembrance, through the National Sorry Day, of this sad and traumatic chapter in the history of this nation. It is deeply concerning that Aboriginal and Torres strait Islander children are still being removed from their families in alarming numbers and we are committed to advocate for an end to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the foster care system and promoting Aboriginal-led responses.
In 1996 the Assembly Standing Committee of the Uniting Church made an ‘Acknowledgement and Apology’ to the ‘Aboriginal Community’ for family separation practices and the Church’s part in it.
Then at the full National Assembly meeting in 1997 this ‘Acknowledgement and Apology’ was affirmed in the ‘Stolen Generation’ resolution, committing and encouraging the whole Uniting Church to support the recommendations of the Inquiry.
Sorry Day falls on the anniversary of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, which was tabled into the Federal Parliament on 26 May 1997.
The inquiry was primarily conducted by commissioners Sir Ronald Wilson, former President of the Uniting Church, and the then President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and Mick Dodson, a Yawuru Man and the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
Indigenous women were also appointed as co-commissioners, to provide support to the people who gave evidence in each region the inquiry visited. They were: Annette Peardon, Marjorie Thorpe, Dr Maryanne Bin Salik, Sadie Canning, Olive Knight, Kathy Mills, Anne Louis, Laurel Williams, Jackie Huggins, Josephine Ptero-David and Professor Marcia Langton. The co-commissioners also assisted in the development of the report and its recommendations.
WALK FOR RECONCILIATION – 20 YEARS ON
In the year 2000, Australians in unprecedented numbers (approximately 250,000) gathered on the Harbour Bridge in Sydney, First and Second Peoples, walking together in solidarity for justice for First Peoples and reconciliation in our nation.
The occasion was the fifth National Reconciliation Week, with the theme of Corroboree 2000 – Sharing Our Future.
Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM was one of the leaders, at the time a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, who had organised the march. A strong motivation for the march was the ‘Bringing Them Home’ Report and the then Prime Minister Howard’s refusal to say ‘sorry’.
A week later, about 60,000 people walked together across the William Jolly Bridge in Brisbane. Scores of smaller walks followed throughout the country, in state capitals and regional towns, culminating in big marches in Melbourne and Perth at the end of the year.
The Melbourne walk, starting at Flinders Street Station and finishing at Kings Domain gardens, drew as many as 300,000 people.
The nation came together as never before.
In our remembering this National Sorry Day we honour those who were removed from their families, we acknowledge the trauma and the generational legacies of that trauma experienced by individuals, families and communities. We say again how deeply sorry we are for our part in this tragedy and commit to being a community where healing and reconciliation, together with human dignity, can flourish.