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Era 5: Recognition

By the early 1990’s, decades of activism were beginning to result in growing recognition of the ongoing damage caused by the past, and the need to pursue healthier ways of relating as an Australian community - Indigenous and non-Indigenous together.

 

To date, the Recognition Era has encompassed the recognition of:

  • Native Title
  • the continuing social and economic disadvantage experienced by many Indigenous people
  • the historical roots of dysfunction in many Indigenous communities 
  • the emotional and psychological trauma inflicted by past policies
  • the need to apologise in order to move forward

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

The 90’s began with the release of the deeply distressing report on the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCADIC). The Commission had been established in 1987 in response to growing public concern regarding the high number of Aboriginal deaths occurring in State and Territory gaols. The shocking substance of the report and the wide publicity it received helped to raise awareness of Indigenous disadvantage and racial discrimination in Australia. 

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliaiton

In 1991, the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established for a ten-year period in order to promote reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. The Council sought to improve, renew and transform relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous people for the future.

Native Title

In 1992, following a decade of court hearings, the High Court’s momentous ruling on the Mabo land rights case finally acknowledged the history of Indigenous dispossession in Australia, abolished the legal fiction of “terra nullius”, and altered the foundation of Australian land law. 

Paul Keating's Redfern Speech

That same year, Prime Minister Paul Keating delivered an historic address, formally acknowledging for the first time the huge and deeply damaging impact of European settlement on Indigenous Australians. 

 

“More I think than most Australians recognise, the plight of Aboriginal Australians affects us all… The starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us, the non-aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with an act of recognition. 

Prime Minister Paul Keating addressing a crowd at Redfern Park.

Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion. It was our ignorance and our prejudice. And our failure to imagine these things being done to us. 


With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me? 


As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us… I think we are beginning to see how much we owe the indigenous Australians and how much we have lost by living so apart.” 

Closing the Gap

As we moved into the new millennium, recognition grew of the very real and continuing gap between the living standards and wellbeing of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians (See The Gap: Indigenous disadvantage in Australia). This prompted the government to introduce the ‘Closing the Gap’ policy framework in 2007, which seeks to eliminate the vast disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous infant mortality rates, life expectancy, education, and employment outcomes by the year 2030.

Little Children are Sacred: the Intervention

Also in 2007, a government report called ‘Little Children are Sacred’ (6.7MB) was released, claiming that child sexual abuse and neglect had reached crisis levels within remote Indigenous communities. This led to public outcry and a swift and controversial government response known as the Intervention.

 

The Intervention is a package of ‘emergency’ laws that were applied to 73 remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. The laws included income management for welfare recipients, and gave the government the power to take possession of Aboriginal land and property.

Many Indigenous Australians, with the support of international bodies including the United Nations, objected to the intervention, expressing concerns that it violated Indigenous Australians’ human rights and did not address the underlying causes of disadvantage that give rise to problems such as child sexual abuse. Several key components of the intervention are forecast to remain in place until 2022.

Kevin Rudd's Apology

A positive step was taken in 2008, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the long-awaited national apology to the Stolen Generations, recognising the pain and damage that past policies of child removal had inflicted on Indigenous people. This message of respect, love, and humility was a significant step towards removing the barriers that have for so long prevented Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians living together as one community.

More information about the Stolen Generations

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd

Stop & Think... A Growing Awareness

  • Paul Keating talked about our failure as a nation to ask - ‘how would I feel if this were done to me?’ Is that a question you have given much thought to about Indigenous Australians?
  • What feelings do you think the broader Indigenous community might have about the fact that it has only been in the last 20-30 years that some of these important advancements and acknowledgments have occurred?
  • Do you remember the apology by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? What were your thoughts and feelings about it at the time? Have they changed at all? 

Want to know more?

Watch Sharing Our Story Episode 3 to learn more about the era of Recognition. 

The complete Sharing Our Story series is available here.

 


Images:

  1. Protest march: "Land Rights March", Flickr, ©dutytodo, 6769703725

  2. Stop black deaths in custody: "Cameron Doomadgee's Son, Eric, with his cross with other mourners at his father's funeral”, ©Andy Zakeli / Fairfax

  3. Mabo we won signs: Mabo: Life of an Island Man, ©Yarra Bank Films

  4. Paul Keating delivers Redfern speech: ©ABC

  5. Northern Territory intervention: ©ABC

  6. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd: ©ABC

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