At its meeting on 6-8 September 1996, the Assembly Standing Committee offered the apology to the Aboriginal community, acknowledging “the trauma and ongoing harm caused to individuals, families, the Aboriginal community as a whole and the entire Australian community” as a result of the practice of separating Indigenous children from their parents.
The following year, the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in Parliament, and more than a decade later, in 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered an apology on behalf of our nation.
I have just returned from a week in Aurukun on the western side of the Cape York Peninsula with Rev. Richard Cassady, a Nywaigi Nation man and a Uniting Church Minister.
It was a joy to hear how the Elders of the Aurukun congregation, in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) Calvary Presbytery, are taking action to ensure their law, their culture and their language, Wik Mungkan, are kept strong for generations to come.
Richard and I also heard the pain that exists from that tragic period in Australia’s history that we have come to call the ‘stolen generations’.
I lament and ponder again, have we as a nation, have we Second Peoples of the UCA, too quickly moved on from our apologies?
The Bringing Them Home Report, compiled by the now Senator Pat Dodson, UCA Past-President Sir Ronald Wilson and prominent First Nations leaders, brought to light the traumatic and tragic impact of these assimilationist policies on the lives of so many people.
Responding to the national apology in 2008, Tom Calma, then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, quoted from the Report:
“The past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. The devastation cannot be addressed unless the whole community listens with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and having listened and understood commits itself to reconciliation.”
Commissioner Calma said the government’s apology “laid the foundation for healing”. In 2015, the Bringing Them Home 20 Years On Report – an Action Plan for Healing, highlighted the need for greater understanding of the generational effects of trauma upon the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
Now, 23 years after our apology, what is the unfinished business for us as the UCA?
Have we deeply heard and understood the cry for more to be done on healing of intergenerational trauma?
How does this affect the covenant relationships of First and Second Peoples in the UCA? What are the actions needed to enable healing for future generations of First Nations Peoples?
Last week, in my time with the Aurukun Congress community, they asked us as the wider Uniting Church to enable their voice to be heard.
My friends, please in your covenant relationships with our UAICC sisters and brothers, listen deeply for what it means to walk together, to lament the past and to seek to be a healing community, characterised by the love of Christ.