Apologies…

I watched one of the more curious events in recent history this afternoon – the Australian Prime Minister formally apologizing for what were some pretty disgraceful actions by literally stealing aboriginal people from their families and moving them to other locations such as orphanages. Out of that comes the term “Stolen Generation“.

Obviously, I’m not totally versed in the history or the story behind why the government decided to do this, but it is, to me, right that the government should apologize for their actions. The fact that they did this, and it was officially sanctioned government policy to do something like this was reprehensible. Another thing that should be remembered is that there are people who are still quite young – the youngest members of the group would be around 40 years old – which makes the whole thing an extremely personal thing.

While I was watching the ABC stream of the apology, one thought came into my mind, and that was the fight that has been going on in this country over getting reparations for descendants of former slaves during the two centuries or so that it was permissible here. Someone might thing that this is me trying to compare apples and oranges, but there are one or two similarities. Mostly, it has to do with the fact that it involved taking people away from their homeland, and that it affected people who were of a different race to the majority.

However, where the arguments for an apology stand up, they fall down for reparations. When it comes to slavery; yes, it was allowed by the government, but there was no edict from them saying the people *must* be taken in as slaves. Unfortunately, that was something that individuals chose to do because they, honestly, didn’t care about these “strange” people from Africa.  Yes, there were efforts by some slaves to become free, which were very successful (see the Underground Railroad), but at times there were some regrettable things that the government did to keep slaves as slaves (such as the Dred Scott case, which said that even free blacks could not be citizens and that slaves were actually property).

If there were to be an official apology issued by our government, I think it would be for decisions such as Dred Scott, because of the effects that it had on people of the day, but now that well over a century has passed, and the last actual slaves (or first generation children after slavery) have now passed away for quite a long time, possibly the argument is reduced for offering reparations.

I know that I’m not answering anything in this, and maybe I’m opening more cans of worms than is necessary, but if a descendant of a slave owner decides to offer descendants of their ancestors’ slaves reparations, they should be able to, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal involving lawsuits and messy legal battles.

In the end, when it comes to slavery, the responsibility ultimately comes to the descendants of the owners of slaves to determine whether or not they feel that they are responsible for their ancestors’ actions. Personally, I think that it should almost be one of those “it’s in the past, let it go” situations, but again, the more you think about it, the more your position almost seems to soften on it.

4 thoughts on “Apologies…

  1. Hi Sephy,

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this apology had a snowball effect and gets the whole world thinking about righting wrongs. Or at least making amends…

    Or is it just that I have had a couple of wines and feeling all melancholy?

  2. Thanks for your perspective from afar. I’ve been living in Australia for 7 years and didn’t know anything about the stolen generations until arriving here. The issue still seems fairly blurry for people who have grown up here – it’s just the way things are. But having the Government issue an apology, with a lot of attention provided by the press and the indigenous peoples, raises people’s awareness of the stories of those affected by policies implemented over 70 years.

    Should it be just the direct descendants who take responsibility for doing something now? I don’t believe so. When actions are allowed to continue, a whole nation becomes implicated, including people of good will. When I became a citizen of Australia I took on responsibility for helping to shape the future of this nation. I’m thankful that Australia’s government has acted on my behalf.

  3. In terms of your “apples and oranges”, I think there are probably more comparisons to be made between Native Americans and Indigenous Australians. However, Australians did practise forms of slavery similar to yours, including the, er.. “importation of labour”. Tens of 1000s were press-ganged from the Pacific Islands, as well as local natives, to work the cane fields in Queensland. (Which is one of the many reasons we southerners occasionally refer to that state as the “Deep North”.) We called it “Blackbirding”, if you want to find out more about it.

    And I agree that it does become more complicated when history’s wrongs were perpetrated by private individuals rather than at the behest of the Government. However, there is a fairly long history of laws enacted in the US which continued the practise so perhaps, leaving aside the question of reparations (as we did), an official apology wouldn’t go astray. Even though the last of your slaves have died, segregation etc is still well within living memory. The Voting Rights Act, for example, was only passed in ’65.

    Anyway, these are just my random first thoughts. There is no clear answer, no matter how much you think about it.

  4. I think there is a similarity between the slaves and our Aussie indigenous population. I wholeheartedly agree with the apology but think this may open a whole can of worms as far as blanket wide scale reparation claims are concerned. Many children of the “Stolen Generation” should not have been removed from their families for sure but some that were removed did lead happy productive lives and do not regret it, although they did probably miss out on learning of their rich culture and heritage which is sad. Rather than concentrating on these children alone, we should perhaps be looking at the harm that was done to the indigenous population as a whole by imposing a foreign way of life on them and trying very hard to correct the problems this has caused.

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