Australia Apologizes to Aborigines
By ROHAN SULLIVAN – 39 minutes ago
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Aborigines organized breakfast barbecues in the Outback, schools held assemblies and giant TV screens went up in state capitals as Australians watched a live broadcast of their government Wednesday apologizing for policies that degraded its indigenous people.
In a historic parliamentary vote that supporters said would open a new chapter in race relations, lawmakers unanimously adopted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's motion on behalf of all Australians.
"We apologize for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians," Rudd said in Parliament, reading from the motion.
The apology is directed at tens of thousands of Aborigines who were forcibly taken from their families as children under now abandoned assimilation policies.
"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry," the motion said. "And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."
Aborigines remain the country's poorest and most disadvantaged group, and Rudd has made improving their lives one of his government's top priorities.
"This is a historic day," said Tom Calma, who gave the Stolen Generations formal response. "Today our leaders across the political spectrum have chosen dignity, hope and respect as the guiding principles for the relationship with our nation's first people."
In Parliament's public galleries and at gatherings large and small around the country, victims of the assimilation policies and their supporters listened intently as Rudd spoke. Many wept quietly.
Traditional cleansing ceremonies were held in Sydney's predominantly Aboriginal suburb of Redfern before a crowd watched events on a big screen. Parents clutched children on their knees. Many waved Australian and Aboriginal flags...
The apology places Australia among a handful of nations that have offered official apologies to oppressed minorities, including Canada's 1998 apology to its native peoples, South Africa's 1992 expression of regret for apartheid and the U.S. Congress' 1988 law apologizing to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.
Aborigines lived mostly as hunter-gatherers for tens of thousands of years before British colonial settlers landed at what is now Sydney in 1788.
Today, there are about 450,000 Aborigines in Australia's population of 21 million. They are the country's poorest group, with the highest rates of jailing, unemployment and illiteracy. Their life expectancy is 17 years shorter than other Australians.
The debate about an apology was spurred by a government inquiry into policies that from 1910 until the 1970s resulted in 100,000 mostly mixed-blood Aboriginal children being taken from their parents under state and federal laws based on a premise that Aborigines were dying out.
Most were deeply traumatized by the loss of their families and culture, the inquiry concluded, naming them the "Stolen Generations." Its 1997 report recommended a formal apology and reparations for the victims.