From around 1910 to 1971, members of the Stolen Generation became the casualties of one of the most egregious protection policies. After policies of segregation had failed to exterminate the Indigenous peoples in their manufactured ghettos, government officials attempted to assimilate Indigenous children into white society through instituting them in white facilities such as orphanages. Around 100,000, native Australians were taken from their families by government welfare officers in order to be "civiliz[ed] by assimilation into white society" (McCarthy 2000, n.p.). Time tells the story of one child whose captors attempted to straighten his hair in an attempt to make him look white, and Rudd speaks about Nanna Fejo, the 80-year-old Aboriginal woman whose cultural life of dancing and participating in Aboriginal ceremonies was taken from her when she was stolen from her parents in the 1920s (McCarthy 2000, n.p. Rudd 2008, n.p.).
In addition to taking them from their homes and parents, children of the Stolen Generation, the notorious "half casts" with one white parent, were also often forced to convert to Christianity through missionary attempts. Although Brock notes that the Aborigines "possessed religious traditions, which were so profound, complete and satisfactory that they did not need to appropriate anything from Christianity and could not be penetrated by it" (2005, 17), the ethnic group was, nevertheless, subject to degradation by the missionaries, who assumed their spiritual ignorance and assigned them to religions quite arbitrarily. In fact, Rudd notes in his apology that the government policy changed, and "the children would be handed over to the missions to be cared for by churches" (2008, n.p.). Instead of assuming a spiritual knowledge and perhaps even prior spirituality, children were lined up into groups and told what religious identity they had just assumed. These children were then sent to the respective churches to be housed. This method was also a further tool for breaking up families, as brothers and sisters would sometimes be sent to different missions (Rudd 2008, n.p.).
While protection provided the legal rational for the abuse and segregation of the Indigenous peoples of Australia, Social Darwinism accounted for the moral or philosophical rational. Because the practices of ghettoization, regulation, and creation of the Stolen Generation "anticipated both the biological and cultural extinction of Australia's Indigenous population," they were actions of a genocide that was based on Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection (Dafler 137). The Europeans of Australia believed the Indigenous people to be an inferior race that must become extinct in line with the terms of natural selection. The half-white children of this fated race, however, could flourish in a survival of the fittest, and so were taken to be bred in line with the characteristics of the fitter race.
Thus, the protection and segregation of Indigenous people in Australia turned into a string of human rights abuses that allowed for the regulation and forced gehttoization of Indigenous people, an attempt at their "cultural and biological" genocide, and forced assimilation with white society for their "half-caste" children in the name of Social Darwinism and survival of the fittest (Dafler 137).
IV. Move Towards Self-Determination
Although the practices of protection and segregation lasted, alarmingly, until the early 1970s, contemporary policies regarding Indigenous peoples in Australia have moved toward self-determination. Since the mid-1970s, most of the provincial boards and bureaus established to deal with Indigenous people relations have primarily focused on the efficiency of the services provided to this part of the population, instead of mandating and regulating their public and private lives. Some provincial governments, like that of New South Wales, have made an official adoption of self-determination or "the right of Aboriginal people to determine their own priorities and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development" ("Aboriginal Affairs in NSW" 2001).
In addition to formal policies, other attempts at encouraging self-determination have evolved. For instance, education has become a primary means through which Aboriginality has been popularized, allowing Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike to experience the rich culture of the country's native people. The government has established a series of higher learning venues for those of Indigenous ethnicity, and school curriculums and web sites have sprung up in order to educate children about the Indigenous history of Australia's people. Curriculums targeting the health and well-being of Indigenous people in Australia have also been launched at medical schools across the nation ("Australia's medical schools" 2004). In addition to popularizing Aboriginality, the government has aided in the Indigenous' people's move toward self-determination through giving them the uncontested right to vote in 1967 ("Indigenous people and the vote" 2007). Although these steps are moves in the right direction, allowing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia to determine their own future and lifestyle, they have not solved all of the problems created by colonization and the policies of protection and segregation that followed. As Cassidy points out, health, economics, housing, and other social problems still run rampant in Indigenous communities (2003).
Like many other native populations in lands discovered by the British crown, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia were adversely affected by colonization and the horrendous policies of protection and segregation that followed. Operating under the philosophy or morality of Social Darwinism, the European settlers of Australia saw the Indigenous people as a weak ethnic group that was soon to become extinct, according to the laws of survival of the fittest. In order to speed the process along, European Australians launched a genocide that decimated the Indigenous people both physically and culturally. Through forced assimilation with whites, ghettoization, and creating the Stolen Generation, in addition to a variety of other methods of control and torture, the European Australians wrenched apart the lives of many Indigenous people and families.
That these types of human rights abuses could continue while peace activists in the United States and the United Kingdom called for an end to war and a brother and sisterhood of humanity is appalling. The systemic, bureaucratic, and organized fashion in which government agencies were employed to bring about the extermination of a people is similarly shocking, an images that conjures up more gruesome details of the Nazi treatments of the Jews during WWII. While an exploration of the tragedies shows that their roots lay in colonialism, this cannot be the scapegoat for every human rights abuse in the 21st century. Instead, individuals and governments must not only claim responsibility for their errors in judgment when accepting certain philosophies such as Social Darwinism -- like Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did during his national apology in January of this year -- but also government officials must work together in order to find ways to correct the wrong doings. By adapting National Sorry Day, instituting the National Sorry Day Committee, encouraging school children to learn about Indigenous populations, and giving Indigenous people the unrestricted right to vote, the government has begun to correct the past. These simple actions, however, are not enough to reconcile two centuries of human rights abuses. As Cassidy points out, the situation among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia is quite strained in terms of both health and socioeconomic status (2003). After generations of regulation and forged ghettoization, one could expect little more. In order to address the situation and prevent further damage to this group of people, the government must provide tangible support in the form of reparations and aid. Only by doing this can Australia hope to truly apologize for its past.
Aboriginal Affairs in NSW: A Short History. (2001). New South Wales Government.
Retrieved July 15, 2008, at http://www.daa.nsw.gov.au/about/history.html.
Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Vic). (2005). National Archives of Australia. Retrieved July 15, 2008, at http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?sdID=22
Aboriginal Records. (2007, October 9). State Records Office of Western Australia.
Retrieved July 15, 2008, at http://www.sro.wa.gov.au/collection/aboriginalrecords.asp
Australia's medical schools launch Indigenous health curriculum. (2004). The University of Melbourne. Retrieved July 15, 2008, at http://uninews.unimelb.edu.au/articleid_1716.html
Brock, Peggy. (2005). Indigenous Peoples and Religious Change. Boston: Brill Leiden.
Cassidy, Julie. (2003). The Legacy of Colonialism. The American Journal of Comparative Law. 51(2), 409-455.
Dafler, Jeffrey R. (2005). Social Darwinism and the language of racial oppression:
Australia's stolen generations. ETC: A Review of General Semantics. 62(2), 137170.
European Discovery and the Colonisation of Australia. (2008, January 11). Australian
Government Culture and Recreation Portal. Retrieved July 15, 2008 from, http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/australianhistory/
Indigenous people and the vote. (2007, October 25). Australian Electoral Commission.
Retrieved July 15, 2008, at http://www.aec.gov.au/voting/indigenous_vote/aborigin.htm
Lawrence, David and Lawrence, Helen Reeves. (2004). Torres Strait: the region and its people. In Davis, Richard (Ed.), Woven Histories, Dancing Lives: Torres Straight Islander Identity, Culture, and History (pp.15-29). Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.
McCarthy, Terry. (2000, October 2). The Stolen Generation. Time. Retrieved July 15, 2008, from, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,998067-1,00.html