Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Australia Says Sorry...........

The Australian Government officially apologized today for the horrors inflicted on generations of Aboriginals through organized programs of physical and sexual abuse, forced integration and cultural indoctrination that were most often perpetrated upon children. Firstly, looking at the concept of an apology, the power relations of an apology are not always as straight forward as one would expect. A colleague and former teacher of mine published a thesis looking at the use of apologizing in British English, finding that:

SORRY is the subtlest word, especially for the middle classes. That is one finding of research into how the British apologise, which reveals that the middle classes say sorry twice as often as the working classes — but with different implications.
They may be “afraid” to admit it, they may “regret” being so, or they may simply “beg your pardon”; but the middle classes are clearly a very sorry lot when it comes to etiquette. They are more likely than anyone to apologise for lack of consideration and similar offences.
But at the same time, they are also the most adept at using apologies to minimise their responsibility for the offence, thus craftily re-asserting their superiority.
“The use or avoidance of apologies appears to be an important way of signalling class identity,” said Mats Deutschmann, who led the study. “Acts of politeness have traditionally been ways for social inferiors to show deference towards social superiors,” he said. “But now we are getting ‘downward politeness’.”
As class distinctions have blurred, social superiors are using apologies to give an illusion of humility when confronted by people they regard as inferior. The Times

In many ways sorry seems so small. The apology from the Australian Government, "For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations", has been an issue for such a long it seems a bit ridiculous that it did not happened at least a decade ago:

More than 10 years since the story of the stolen generations was told in the Bringing Them Home report, the declaration of the apology will usher in a new era of recognition and reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia. SMH

While the emphasis was clearly on the past wrongs, there is a today a desperate need for action.


72% of Australia's Aborigines are living in poverty. Remote Indigenous communities face particular economic disadvantage, despite so-called benefits.
From the Australian Bureau of Statistics:

* In Australia the average income is $585 per week.
* The average for Aboriginal people is $364 per week.
* Aboriginal income in cities is $435 per week.
* Aboriginal income in remote communities is $267 per week.

and the killing continues;

Over the period 1997–99, the life expectancy at birth for an Indigenous male was 56 years, and for an Indigenous female, 63 years. Comparable life expectancies were experienced by males in the total population in 1901–10, and females in 1920–22. Today, males in the total Australian population have a life expectancy of 76 years and females 82 years.....In the age group 35–54 years, the Indigenous death rate was 5–6 times higher than expected. The Health and Welfare of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples (2001)

If something is not achieved in regards to the situations experienced daily by many indigenous Australians it seems likely the apologizing could go on for some time yet.......


Anonymous said...

And on the word "Sorry" in relation to the government apology - it is huge symbolically for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike; Pat Dodson (a highly revered Indigenous Activist)made a very important and vital point about this: When someone dies, when there is serious hurt or loss in Aboriginal Culture, people enter into "Sorry business", which is effectively sanctioned grieving, wherein people grief outwardly and collectively in various ways; through wailing, ceremony, gatherings and the like.
The fact that the apology was so long in the coming and the sentiment / intention towards recognising the sorrow experienced by people was so absent for so long, meant that Indigenous Australians (and empathic others) could not enter into "Sorry business". This "business" is effectively the business of healing, through acknowledgement, grieving, acceptance and forgiveness. The entering into and eventually the completing of this process allows people to 'move on' with / in their lives.
This apology has brought about an undeniable difference to the psychic atmosphere of Australian society on deep and energetic levels.
Many of us (Indigenous and non-Indigenous from regional and urban Australia) are so happy about it! Interestingly, I have since found out, that many Indigenous friends from remote areas of Australia are / were oblivious to it.
Bern :)

((((((((ö)))))))) said...

Wise words Bern. Many people have spoken to me here in the Swedish town in which I live about the apology. With smiles on their faces they usually say somthing like "You said sorry." Like it is all Australians that have made the step. It is a good feeling to have when it seems like the history of my country and the present time are becoming aligned. Like we can admit to the horrors but are strong enough to overcome them.