What Is Sorry Day?
Sorry Day is an annual day of remembrance in Australia to acknowledge the injustice experienced by members of the Stolen Generation. It is held each year on May 26th.
American academic John Torpey coined the term the “Stolen Generation” to describe the “Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families in the interest of turning them into white Australians.”
How Did Sorry Day Come About?
National Sorry Day came about as a product of the “Bringing Them Home” report in 1997 as a means to honour Australia’s First Peoples and to remember the Stolen Generation. The Stolen Generation includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been affected by this harrowing part of Australian history since European colonisation.
What Is The “Bringing Them Home” Report?
The “Bringing Them Home” report was a national inquiry that looked into the history of Indigenous children being separated from their families between 1910 and the 1970s. This marked the beginning of the healing process for the Stolen Generation and their family members. The “Bringing Them Home” report was the first record of Aboriginals sharing their stories.
The report noted that many Indigenous children from Aboriginal tribes and The Torres Strait Islands were removed from their families and communities during those years. Children were taken by Australian police either while on their way to school or from their own homes. The children were then forced into foster care or adopted out to non-Indigenous families.
Labelled as minorities, many of the children suffered physical and sexual abuse and were targets for degrading treatment. The children were frequently reminded and made to believe that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were inferior.
The forcible removal and abduction of Indigenous children was a widespread practice in Australia throughout the twentieth century due to assimilation policies adopted by the government. Mainstream recognition and acknowledgement of the horrendous experiences of the Indigenous children and their families have only recently been made relevant.
When Is Sorry Day?
So when is the National Sorry Day? Well, the first Nation-Wide Sorry Day was on May 26, 1998—a year after the publication of the Bringing Them Home report. In 1995, an inquiry survey was established on the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their original families. Many Indigenous communities exhausted their efforts to make known their history to the majority public.
National Sorry Day or National Apology Day is an observance-type holiday, though it is not a federal public holiday.
What Do People Do During Sorry Day?
Many different National Sorry Day events and activities take place all around Australia. These include activities such as:
- Concerts and barbecues
- Reconciliation walks and marches on the streets
- Flag raising events
- Teas and lunches
- Speeches and statements from community leaders (indigenous Australian elders, educators, politicians, government officials)
People also write messages in “sorry books” to show their commitment towards reconciliation. “Sorry books” have been part of National Sorry Day celebrations since 1998.
Some schools also have essay writing competitions and candle lighting events for the Stolen Generations who were taken away from their families and communities. Films that are in-theme with National Sorry Day are sometimes also shown to students for discussion.
Why Is Sorry Day Important?
National Sorry Day or National Apology Day is important for Australia because it is a day to remember and acknowledge the Stolen Generations.
Educating Australians, especially the younger generations, on how Sorry Day came about or how it started is a way to show respect to the country’s history. It is important for the younger ones especially to know facts about Sorry day, how that type of injustice was even allowed and how it is also very wrong and should not be continued on.
The suffering and loss experienced by the Stolen Generation cannot be taken back, but it can be amended. The point of Sorry Day is for Australians to show empathy to those affected for the crimes committed against them. Australians can do their part in observing Sorry Day by participating in the different activities planned. Being a part of Sorry Day is part of the healing process.
What Do Aboriginals Think Of Sorry Day?
While an apology can mean different things, for many Indigenous Australians, a simple ‘sorry’ can lack meaning and depth since many of those who were affected were not compensated for the injustice they experienced.
What Are The Arguments Against Sorry Day?
2019 will mark the 22nd year of a National Sorry Day observance. Despite the history that it is supposed to commemorate, legal reforms that could lead to tangible outcomes for the Stolen Generation have been ignored or dismissed in parliament.
On February 13, 2008, Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd, forwarded a motion in parliament, apologizing to Australia’s Indigenous people and the Stolen Generations’ families and communities for the laws and policies that caused their profound grief and suffering.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd included with the apology a proposal to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in terms of education, and economic opportunity. Prime Minister Rudd’s actions were seen as one of the first real steps toward reconciliation. He was also the first Australian Prime Minister to apologise to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian Government.
Vague promises have been the standard, and though Australia has progressed away from its dark racist history, many believe that a day of observance or a Sorry Day speech year after year is not enough to excuse the country of its guilt. Many political activists believe that there is still so much that could be done to help reconcile the long-suffering tension between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.