The taking of Aboriginal children from their families and communities is occurring at five times the rate it was in 1997 when the Australian government released the report “Bringing Them Home” about the “Stolen Generation”—the approximately 50,000 mixed-race, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were removed from their families in an effort to “assimilate” them into white culture.
The report labeled this government-sanctioned effort to encourage ‘past-Aborignal’ children to take their place in white Australian society as “genocide,” reported John Pilger, an Australian-born filmmaker and author, for Truth-Out.org.
As of June last year, Pilger states, nearly 14,000 Aboriginal children have been “removed” from their parents, siblings and relatives. While Aboriginal children account for a mere 3 percent of the Australian population, they make up a third of all children in state custody.
This “breeding out the color”, as one chief protector of Aborigines describes it, is influenced by the same eugenics movement as the Nazis, Pilger states, and it continues today under euphemisms like “reconciliation” and “Stronger Futures.”
If forced removal persists at the present rate, “this mass removal of Aboriginal children will result in a stolen generation of more than 3,300 children in the Northern Territory alone,” Pilger writes.
Prior to the late 1990s, Aborigine children were widely regarded as “morally deficient,” explains the “Bringing Them Home” report, and the government perpetuated the belief that they were helping disadvantaged children at risk in their own communities by adopting them into white families or government institutions.
In reality, these children of Aboriginal descent were oftentimes abused and received a “lower standard of education or sometimes no education at all, when compared with the standard of education available to white Australian children,” according to the National Sorry Day Committee. “In Western Australia, for example, once removed, children were often placed in dormitories, trained as farm labourers and domestic servants, and by the age of 14 were sent out to work.”
Children were also encouraged to abandon and deny their Aboriginal heritage and language and adopt western values and customs.
As one woman from New South Wales, who was removed at the age of 3 in 1946, testified to the National Sorry Day Committee:
I led a very lost, confused, sad, empty childhood, as my foster father molested me. I remember once having a bath and my clothes on ‘cause I was too scared to take them off. I was scared of the dark ‘cause my foster father would often come at night. I was scared to tell anyone ‘cause I once attempted to tell the local Priest at the Catholic church and he told me to say ten Hail Mary’s for telling lies. So I thought this was how ‘normal’ non-Aboriginal families were. I was taken to various doctors who diagnosed me as ‘uncontrollable’ or ‘lacking in intelligence’. In 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd famously apologized for the government to the Stolen Generation. He additionally shared his conversation with an elderly indigenous woman, whom he visited a few days prior to issuing his statement. The woman’s family dug holes in the ground in an attempt to hide her from the “welfare men,” but she was found at age 4 and removed from the arms of her crying mother, Rudd relayed, reported news.com.au.
“There is something terribly primal about these first-hand accounts, the pain is searing, it screams from the pages, the hurt the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity,” Rudd said.
But, according to Pilger’s article, Rudd also added, “I want to be blunt about this. There will be no compensation.” The Sydney Morning Herald called his speech a “shrewd maneuver” that “cleared away a piece of political wreckage that responds to some of its supporters’ emotional needs, but changes nothing.”
There is one government-issued remedy measure, Linked Up, which services the entire country to reunite members of the Stolen Generation with their families. Those searches and reconnections, however, are often fraught with varied and contradicting emotions of joy and unrelenting resentment over such inhumane abuse and trauma that will never go away.
Now the New South Wales parliament is about to debate legislation that introduces forced adoption and “guardianship” for children younger than 2 who have been “removed” for more than six months. But children are typically unjustly removed straight from the hospital bed, or in the middle of the night, their villages raided by police. Over the past century, Aboriginal families often had “look-outs and warning systems and kids might rush off into the bush,” explained historian and professor Anna Haebich on StolenGenerationsTestimonies.com. “Some families put them in suitcases, sat on the suitcase…. [I]f they knew about it, [they] might have the [mixed-race] children blackened up with charcoal.”
The proposed legislation in New South Wales sets Aboriginal families up to fail; it can often take six months to merely make contact with their children, one Aboriginal mother who lost her children, told Pilger under anonymity.
Stolen Generation survivors never fully heal their deep wounds and immense sorrow. “What you do is you adjust and you build your life around the scars and that’s what you have to do in order to survive. And many of us have survived,” said Debra Hocking in a testimonial for the Stolen Generations’ Testimonies project.
The systematic removal of Aboriginal children in Australia is similar to that of Indian children in South Dakota, who are taken from their families and tribal communities at rates grossly disproportionate to that of white children. Read about the lawsuit Oglala Sioux Tribe v. Van Hunnik, which charges South Dakota State and local Pennington County officials with violating the rights of Indian parents and tribes in state child custody proceedings: Swept Away: South Dakota’s Native Children Denied Due Process in Custody Cases, and Swept Away, Part 2: Suing South Dakota to Protect Native Children.