EI and Australian teachers welcome official apology to Aborigines

published 13 February 2008 updated 13 February 2008

EI and Australian teachers are wholeheartedly applauding the new federal government’s formal apology to indigenous Aboriginal people for past injustices and human rights violations.

On 13 February, the first day of taking office, newly-elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd rose in the Parliament and apologised in an emotional and magnificent speech to all Aborigines for past laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss."

He specifically pointed to the "Stolen Generations," thousands of Aboriginal children who were taken away from their families through a policy of forced assimilation which lasted from the 19th Century to the late 1960s. "For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry," Rudd said. In a statement signed by AEU Federal President Angelo Gavrielatos and Federal Secretary and EI Vice-President Susan Hopgood, the Australian Education Union called the apology "a significant moment in Australia's history."

"It marks the beginning of a journey which sees a painful and tragic period of Australian history acknowledged," the statement said, and pledged the AEU to stand in solidarity with the Stolen Generations, their families and communities.

Hopgood noted that students and teachers in schools across the country watched the ceremony and were moved by the eloquent apology. "It was a day of high emotion -- tears, laughter, sadness for the past wrongdoings, but also an overwhelming hope for the future," she said.

The AEU statement urged the government to go beyond today’s apology: It said "all levels of Australian governments must further acknowledge and urgently act to redress the significant and unacceptable gap between the educational outcomes of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students."

The union also welcomed the government's announced commitment to prioritise provision of early childhood education for Indigenous children.

"Countless studies show that quality early childhood education is crucial to future learning and educational achievement," Hopgood said, adding that AUE figures show that as many as 7,500 Indigenous children are missing out on pre-school or school education in the Northern Territory alone.

The apology comes in advance of the World Indigenous Peoples Conference, slated to be held on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne, Australia from 7-11 December 2008. Education is the theme of this year’s conference, which will attract Indigenous peoples from around the globe to celebrate and share diverse cultures, traditions and knowledge. The conference will provide a forum to learn about and promote best practice in Indigenous education policies, programs and practice. To read the full text of the AEU statement, see: http://www.aeufederal.org.au/Atsi/AEUstatapology.pdf

For more information on the World Indigenous People’s Conference, see: http://www.wipce2008.com/