The symbolism of the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations embodied strong statements about the way we Australians commit ourselves to treat one another, writes Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ. Source: Eureka Street.
In the years before then prime minister Kevin Rudd made the apology on February 13, 2008, politicians debated the value of the gesture. Some contrasted symbolic reconciliation with real reconciliation. Those of us with a theological bent were reminded of debates between Catholics and Protestants about sacraments. Whether in the Eucharist, for example, Christ was made really or merely symbolically present. In both cases opposing the real to the symbolic devalued the real power of the symbol to create a new reality.
All apologies are symbolic. They do not change the facts of past injury and insult, but enact a changed relationship with the possibility of further change in the parties involved. They affect relationships – those most cloudy but also most tangible of things. Apologies embody a way of relating built on respect. In doing so, they also acknowledge a moral code shared by both parties, and a shared acceptance that it has unjustifiably been disregarded.
They also imply a pledge to act differently in the future.
In the Apology to the Stolen Generations the Australian Government spoke on behalf of all Australians in recognising that it acted wrongly in removing Indigenous children from their parents.
It was of great significance that the prime minister made the apology in person to representatives of the Stolen Generations and that they accepted it. His gesture stated that all Australians are equally entitled to respect, and that the government and all Australians are responsible to ensure that all Australians are treated equally, regardless of race and history.
The symbolism of the apology embodied strong statements about the way we Australians commit ourselves to treat one another. They can never be unsaid. They can, however, be disregarded. For that reason the apology continues to be important. It is a measuring stick by which both the conduct of government and the treatment of Indigenous Australians can be judged.
Apology anniversary as a time to reflect (Eureka Street)