National Sorry Day, on 26 May, is an opportunity to acknowledge the trauma and loss that continues to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and a chance to reflect on shared histories and healing – which is a focus of Reconciliation Week, and follows from 27 May to 3 June. In this post, ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes on the courage needed to pursue truth and reconciliation.
Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week are two aspects of the same mission. Sorry Day marks one of the worst episodes in the mistreatment of First Australians by the descendants of the colonial invaders. It records the forced removal of children from First Nations families and the lasting suffering inflicted both on the children and their families. Sorry Week was initiated in 1998 after the publication of the Bringing Them Home Report. It led eventually to the Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 and the Parliamentary commitment to close the gap between the lives of First Nations and non-First Nations Australians.
Reconciliation Week focuses on what remains to be done in ensuring that First Nations people are not discriminated against. If that is to happen the wider Australian community must understand and want to change the conditions that entrench inequality. Reconciliation must be based on a shared acknowledgment of the reality of colonial settlement in Australia, of its effects on the First Australians, and on a shared determination to end the poor treatment of Indigenous people.
In 2022 the theme of Reconciliation Week urges us to be brave, make change. It calls on First Nations people to be assertive in recognising and insisting on their right to equal respect before the law and in its administration and institutions. That takes courage, as we have seen in the experience of Adam Goodes and other First Nations people who have spoken courageously and insistently about their rights and have called out the discrimination and abuse directed at them.
Being brave and making change also involves courage from non-First Nations Australians in acknowledging systemic discrimination against First Nations people and pressing for change. Words carefully crafted to avoid offense are not enough. For example, First Nations children continue to be removed from their families at a far greater rate than non-First Nations children. First Nations children are also incarcerated at a far greater rate. Trying to change these practices and the attitudes that underlie them are central in our advocacy and policy work at Jesuit Social Services on behalf of the young people whom we serve.
Humility comes from seeking and knowing the truth. For that reason, it is so important that people share the knowledge of past and present injustice, particularly that which unseen shapes attitudes and institutions. This year the Victorian truth and justice process has taken a step forward in the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission truth process to enable truth-telling. It is part of a treaty process. This is a brave step which will require support and courage from all involved in it and interest and encouragement from us all if it is to make a difference, as will the establishment of a voice of the First Nations to Parliament.