Around two hundred people gathered at The Block in Redfern yesterday to commemorate national Sorry Day, and to protest the ongoing removal of Aboriginal children from their families.
May 26 marks the 19th anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report that exposed the Stolen Generations and the mistreatment of Aboriginal children in state care and foster homes.
The report highlighted the relationship between the removal of children and increased contact with juvenile detention and the criminal justice system, as well as heightened rates of substance abuse and mental health issues.
Despite former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, GMAR and Aboriginal community organisations have continued to highlight that the number of Aboriginal children in care has actually increased in recent years.
There are currently over 15,000 Aboriginal children in care nation-wide, approximately 6,500 of them in NSW – a five-fold increase over 2008 numbers.
Yesterday’s event was organised by Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), a national advocate network of Aboriginal grandmothers for reforms to the child protection system, and was supported by Aboriginal community groups such as the Aboriginal Legal Service, Metropolitan Aboriginal Land Council and Mudgin-Gal Aboriginal Women’s Centre.
After gathering at The Block, the group then marched to the Family and Community Services (FACS) office in Strawberry Hills.
Aunty Debra Swan, one of GMAR’s founding members from Moree, was at the rally.
“Kids should be placed with their families, or brought back to their families. Self-determination means looking after our own kids,” she said.
GMAR argue that care institutions in particular are often sites of abuse.
“Kids are dying and young girls are becoming pregnant in non-Aboriginal care,” said another GMAR founder, Aunty Sue-Ellen Tighe from Coonabarabran.
“[FACS] need to be made accountable for taking our children and destroying our families and culture,” said Aunty Hazel Collins, from Gunnedah.
Representatives from GMAR are meeting on Friday with NSW Minister for FACS, Brad Hazzard, to discuss a review of current policy.
“This will be a long fight but we will not stop until we make them sit at the table with us to discuss the future of our kids,” said Aunty Debra.
GMAR are asking for the recommendations of the 19-year old Bringing Them Home report to be implemented, most significantly the “Aboriginal Placement Principle”, a plan to return children currently in out-of-home care into care within their kinship networks and communities, and for an independent body empowered to review child removal cases.