By Helen Moran
After the ‘Bringing them home’ Report had been tabled in Parliament House, Kim Beasley had shed tears in empathy and John Howard had refused to say Sorry to the Stolen Generations. I was approached by a number of High Schools and Colleges in the ACT to share my story as a member of the Stolen Generations, and to present an overview of Aboriginal history, identifying how the forced removal policies had impacted on our cultural and social structures.
I shared photos of my lost family – the family I never saw again – and I told how my personal history and identity had been changed. During each of my presentations an underlying tension would quietly build as the mood in the room became more and more sombre. I explained that before the invasion, Australia was a continent of over 300 nations with different languages, cultures, social structures and laws. I shared what a devastating impact the removal of 10 Generations of First Nations children from their families, had been on all of this.
Many of the students were outraged to learn that no one had told them the full truthful story about Australia’s history until this late in their schooling, and that it had to come from outside the curriculum. They were both angry and extremely disappointed that something as significant as this part of Australia’s history had been silenced and denied.
Some students pointed out that having this knowledge available to all students past and present would have helped them all to have an understanding and appreciation of the difficulties Australia’s Aboriginal people have had to face and that it would have help to combat the racism and discrimination that exists in Australia today. Our children and youth don’t like their intelligence, comprehension or ability to understand, to be under-estimated any more than adults do.
Even more alarming, is the fact that in the next few months there is a real risk that we will adopt a new national school’s curriculum that continues the status quo of retaining this harmful silence. In the new history curriculum, the achievements and historical mistreatment of Australia’s First Nations Peoples won’t be taught until Year 10. This is far too little and way too late. Those students of ours, who don’t reach Grade 10, will be completely denied the opportunity of learning the significance of their roots – the struggles and the resilience of their people.
An education that preserves this silence on the history and achievements of our First Nations Peoples, will only maintain the existing disengagement of our First Nations students. This won’t be fixed by offering some different activities in remote or discrete Indigenous communities, because the majority of our people live as dispersed minorities in big towns and cities. Most of our children go to mainstream schools with multicultural populations. Every single Australian child deserves a real and transparent education.
Children from early primary school onwards are very capable of feeling empathy.Of course the way we teach them has to be appropriate to their age-group, with resources that challenge and inspire them. Currently there is an option in the new curriculum to look at Sorry Day (along with other days of national importance like Anzac Day) in Year 3. Sorry Day and the Australian Parliament’s Apology to the Stolen Generations should be a doorway to a substantial discussion about Australia’s First Peoples. It should happen in Year 3, and then, evenly spread throughout Primary and Secondary School.
The history and ongoing consequences faced by members of the Stolen Generations, their families and communities can’t be an optional unit – it has to be compulsory and substantial. An independent curriculum body (ACARA) was set up to develop the national curriculum. This body has established an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel, which has been there for more than a year. They have to stand up on our behalf and say that the status quo is not good enough.
Educating our children with the truth is the way toward healing this great country and for the Stolen Generations and the rest of the nation we need to know, today’s children and future generations will be taught the truth about what happened to so many of this county’s First Nations children of the past.
Another opportunity to affect what our children learn at school and transform our country won’t come along for at least another decade or more. The NSDC has hopes that the new National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples will take this up and make it their first important run on the board. Because the only thing that will be more tragic than this continued silence in the curriculum is our choice to remain silent about fixing it.
Sign the National Sorry Day Committee’s national curriculum petition by going to
www.nsdc.org.au and following the links.
Helen Moran is Helen Moran Indigenous Co-Chair of the National Sorry Day Committee.