On August 5, 2021, the Australian government awarded people harmed by the country’s assimilation policies between 1910 and 1970 compensation totaling 280 million Australian dollars, or nearly 800 million gold. For years, families from indigenous communities had their children taken away from them and placed in boarding schools or given up for adoption in secret. Their childhood was marked by violence, rape, hunger, loneliness and hard work. Some entered adulthood with mental problems, some died at a young age. After several decades, the so-called Stolen Generations have lived to see reparations.
On May 27, 2021, the bodies of 215 children from indigenous communities were found on the grounds of a school near the town of Kamloops, Canada. This event marked the beginning of the ongoing confusion over the systematic efforts to assimilate endemic tribes.
Its main idea was to take children from Indian families and place them in special institutions, largely run by the Catholic Church, where they were to be adapted to life with white people.
These children are called the “Stolen Generations.” Most never saw their parents again, they were forbidden to speak their native language, they were psychologically abused, forced to do hard physical labor, administered corporal punishment, and some of the pupils were raped and starved. As a result, some students died before reaching adulthood.
According to Rosanne Casimir, a representative of the First Nations Government (Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc), which represents some of the Indian tribes now living on Canadian soil: “although it was not documented, the procedure had been known to everyone for years”.
Indeed, after the closure of the last facility in the 1970s, there were many reports and publications on the subject based on the testimonies of “survivors” (such as “Out of the Depths” by Isabelle Knockwood or Polish “27 Deaths of Toby Obed” by Joanna Gierak-Onoszko). In 2009, a special Truth and Reconciliation Commission was even established. But it wasn’t until a gruesome discovery near Kamploos that the scale of the problem became clear to Canadians.
While in the country of the Maple Leaf hundreds of thousands of square kilometers of land are being dug up to find more and more nameless graves, on the other side of the world a group of people, who for years have been struggling with similar experiences, made themselves known. Australians Together works to raise awareness and provide redress for those affected by the Australian government’s assimilation policies.
The events in Canada made them remember the children from that part of the world. And eventually it was decided to compensate them.
– Agents would drive up and pick up the children simply from under the house,” says Deanne Kenyon of Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tours in an interview with Yahoo! Travel. – That’s what happened to my grandfather. It was in Australia that the phrase “Stolen Generations” was coined. It was first used in 1981 by researcher Peter Read.
“Here is one of the typical stories that has happened to many families,” – he writes in the report “The Stolen Generations. The removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969.” “Around 1950, a couple with seven children are visited by an inspector from the Aborigines Protection Board. The family is well aware that they will probably have to fight for the right to stay together. What they don’t know is that their names are already on the official’s list because their lifestyle doesn’t match the vision imposed by the government. They do not need to know what it looks like (. ). Nor do they have any idea of the fact that in distant Cootamundra and Kempsey the camp workers have already been notified and have prepared seven vacant beds.”
Read goes on to write about how the children are taken to hospital under the pretext of being examined, but never returned to their families. One day, a bus pulls up and they leave for the closed schools for “de-aborigenization.” In practice, this means either several years of torment in a closed center or giving the children away to white families.
A photograph taken in 1934 has become a symbol of such practices. On a newspaper clipping showing a picture of several girls signed as “half-bloods” and “quarter-bloods,” someone wrote: “I like the girl in the middle, but if someone has already taken her, any other can be too, as long as she is strong.”
“No one informs the parents, no one waves goodbye, no one walks them to the last train. The mother goes into shock from which she never recovers. The father sinks into alcoholism,” – you can read in the publication of the researcher.
One of the seven children dies, but no one knows how or when exactly. Two are said to marry whites, at least that is what the official records say. The fourth is never heard of after being adopted by a white family at the age of seven. There is no information about the fifth at all. The last two, a boy and a girl, returned home at age 20. He by then with an alcohol problem.
Both are unfit to function in society. They have nightmares, they drink, they gamble, they engage in violent behavior, and they cannot control their emotions, making their adult lives a torment.
Concluding the introduction to his publication, Read further asks: “Why was it so necessary to deprive thousands of families of their children and try to turn them into white people? Some are still searching for answers today.
It is estimated that between 1910 and 1969 (although some say it began earlier and lasted longer) between 50,000 and 200,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their parents as part of the assimilation process. The discrepancy in estimates is the result of sloppy documentation, which does not give a clear picture of the scale of the practice.
Skin color did not matter at the first stage. It was only later that the children were divided according to this aspect. Those with lighter skin tones were usually placed in white families of European descent, the rest in boarding schools.
“The best” were toddlers before the age of 3 who had not yet learned to speak their parents’ language. There was no need to teach them their mother tongue. The boarding schools tried to make them resent their own culture, make them feel ashamed of their origin and traditions, and learn to live in the spirit of Christian civilization, side by side with the white man and the Church.
According to the Australians Together website, the boarding schools were starving and cold. The wards of the schools were told that their parents had died or abandoned them years ago and they had no family.
Many children experienced physical and psychological abuse, some were abused, including sexually, leading to deep trauma as adults.
On the Australians Together website, at the end of the description of the history of assimilation policies, the question is asked, “Why is it still so important today?” As part of their response, representatives cite the findings of the Healing Foundation’s 2020 report that the vast majority of those who survive assimilation face a range of problems. From social exclusion, to mental health and addiction disorders, to loss of their own ethnic identity.
Although the last facility closed in the 1970s, it is not until the 1990s that the issue is discussed. In 1997, a government report, Bringing Them Home, is produced.
The authors claim that under the Stolen Generations some 100,000 children have been separated from their families. They also suggest that the President of Australia should apologize for the policies of his country in previous years. John Howard, who was in office at the time, refused to do so. Only Kevin Rudd did so in 2008.
The word “sorry” was, in the opinion of the Stolen Generations activists, an important, but only a first step. The following years brought a struggle for recognition of the wrongs of indigenous people and compensation. On August 5, 2021, the Australian government awarded a total of 280 million Australian dollars in reparations.