Sydney (AP) – Since Archie Roach released “Took The Children Away” in 1990, the Aboriginal artist has been one of the main voices of Australian aborigines.
The deeply sad song is something like the anthem of the stolen generations – those “stolen generations” of indigenous peoples who were snatched from their families between 1910 and 1970.
Goal: In homes and missions, the children should be “re-educated”, forgetting their origin and language and adopting the culture of European immigrants. Those affected suffer to this day because they do not feel at home with their people, nor in the world of the whites.
For decades, Aboriginal associations have demanded financial compensation for human rights violations. Now they have won a major victory: the Canberra government has announced it will begin such a reparation. Many no longer believed in it. “I cried and laughed at the same time, my granddaughter tried to calm me down,” Australian broadcaster ABC quoted 78-year-old Eileen Cummings as saying.
At the same time, she is sad that many of those who suffer can no longer experience this. “The stolen generations in the Northern Territory have long fought for the day,” Cummings said. At the age of four, she was taken from her parents in the Arnhem Land settlement area and taken to Croker Island, where there was a Methodist mission at the time.
Separation from family
Many did not see their family until many years later, or never again. It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of all indigenous children were affected. Preferably they were the children of Aboriginals and Europeans who were literally ripped from their parents’ arms and forcibly taken to other – often distant – parts of the country.
The sensitive subject was brought up again and again in music and film, but the demands of the indigenous people went unheard for a long time. Australian director Phillip Noyce, for example, gave an impressive account of the horror in 2002: the drama ‘Long Walk Home’ tells the story of three Aboriginal children who, after being kidnapped by the authorities, walk 2000 kilometers through the outback to their families. Tears came to his mind as he read the script, Noyce said. Now many Aborigines are crying – with relief: “Tears of joy and pain”, “ABC” described the reactions.
Nearly $380 million in compensation
The government plans to spend 378.6 million Australian dollars (236 million euros) on the compensation from 2022. Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of a “longstanding problem of national concern” that is now being addressed.
Indigenous peoples spokesmen hailed the move as an important step. “Many of the stolen generations believed they could never win the battle, that the government would wait for them all to die before doing anything,” said Maisie Austin, head of the Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation. She spoke of a “very emotional, very exciting” moment.
Next of kin will also have the opportunity to tell their story to a government official, be acknowledged, and receive a personal or written apology. This could be an important step towards healing from Australian trauma. The project is reminiscent of Nelson Mandela’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated crimes during apartheid in South Africa in the 1990s. Victims and perpetrators entered into a dialogue to make reconciliation possible.
Aboriginals die eight years earlier
Whether this is also possible in Australia remains to be seen. Aboriginal people usually live on the margins of society, they are often affected by poverty, alcoholism and disease. This also leads to a lower life expectancy. According to government statistics, Aboriginal people die about eight years earlier than other Australians.
Prime Minister Morrison hopes the compensation will “have a positive impact on the health and well-being of Stolen Generations survivors, their families and communities”.
From March, Indigenous Peoples can request and receive a one-time payment of 75,000 Australian dollars (47,000 euros) as “recognition of suffering” and another 7,000 Australian dollars (4,400 euros) to “facilitate healing”.
However, the stolen years and culture cannot bring back money. “They took us, ripped us off our mother’s chest and said it was the best,” Archie Roach’s song says. The 65-year-old with the distinctive voice was one of those children herself. “Growing up, we felt alone. Because we behaved white and felt black,” he sings.
Hal Hart – abducted as a 10-year-old and now 79 – sums it up: “The trauma I had to go through alone and without my family was heavy, I still suffer from it.” Then he adds, “This compensation isn’t nearly enough to compensate for what we’ve been through.”