Why National Sorry Day is still important even after the apology

| May 24, 2013

This Sunday is National Sorry Day, when Australia acknowledges the forcible removal of indigenous children from their families and communities. Charles Passi from the Healing Foundation asks all Australians to contribute to the collective journey of healing and recognition.

As the Chair of the Healing Foundation I’ve been given a responsibility and challenge to lead the nation to a place where all Australians, especially the Stolen Generations, can heal from the pain of the past. I have a vision that on National Sorry Days to come we will remember how we moved forward from the national Apology, how we were given a Healing Foundation;  and how these two events signified the start of a new journey, not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but for the whole country.

Getting to a point where we see this day as a day of celebration will take a lot of work from each and every one of us.  Healing is not easy; healing can be painful. It’s like getting a splinter caught in your finger. To make it better you first have to yank the splinter out, and that’s going to hurt.

I still remember the day when, following the nearly year-long National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, I waited to hear the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report as it was tabled in Federal Parliament. That day was the 26 May 1997. This was indeed a ground breaking day in our lifetime. For the first time recognition of the terrible damage done to our people took a great step forward.

The Report revealed the shattering effects of the forcible removal policies in terms of the broken ties to family, community and country.  It recognised the psychological, physical and sexual abuse these children were exposed to. It talked about the loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land and the loss of parenting skills. It also revealed the intergenerational effects these forced child removals continue to have on their families and communities.

We’ve come a long way since the days of calling for an inquiry into the government’s forced removal policies. We’ve had a national Apology, and since 2009 we’ve had a Healing Foundation. Our job at the Healing Foundation is to support culturally strong, locally run Indigenous healing programs around Australia and fund education and research on Indigenous healing. These programs grow our children strong, support members of the Stolen Generations, assist communities to build cultural strength and skill up workers. It’s time to promote “our healing our way”.

We don’t want to treat this as a black issue any more. We all have to stand up and make our own effort to create change. It’s not up to the Prime Minister, it’s up to all of us, black and white, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to shake hands and move on with our lives.

So this Sunday 26 May I ask you to take a moment to think about how we have come a long way towards recognition and how our collective journey of healing has begun. Think about what you can do to contribute to this healing, what you can do to make our country better. The change is in you.


Charles Passi is chair of the Healing Foundation. He is a Daurareb tribesman from the Meriam islands in the eastern Torres Strait.