This week marked the 10th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations. The National Apology made in Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008 was a landmark event, as the first formal, national recognition of past atrocities and a first step towards restitution. To commemorate the National Apology, some of our Year 10 Indigenous students and members of ERA for Change were involved in a special ceremony at St James’ College, Spring Hill. The ceremony involved a gathering of community Elders as well as students from other schools and was organised by the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane and the Murri Ministry.

So, why is this simple word so powerful? When you say ‘sorry’ to someone, you're telling them that you're sorry for the hurt you caused, even if you didn't do it on purpose. People who are apologising might also say that they will try to do better. They might promise to fix or replace what was broken or take back a mean thing they said.

The word “sorry” in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages and cultures can hold special meaning, often used to describe the rituals surrounding death - Sorry Business. Sorry, in this context, expresses empathy, sympathy and an acknowledgment of loss rather than responsibility.

When then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said sorry on the behalf of the Australian Government to the survivors and families of the stolen generations, the nation watched on. The outpouring of emotion was broadcast across the nation. It was a significant event for members of the Stolen Generations and their families, the wider Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and other Australians. Many Stolen Generations members felt that their pain and suffering was acknowledged, and that the nation understood the need to right the wrongs of the past. These formal apologies were an important step towards building a respectful new relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In this way, the Apology lays the groundwork for us to work more effectively towards achieving better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

One important action that the College carries out in our masses, liturgies and assemblies is the Acknowledgment of Country. The Acknowledgment of Country involves acknowledging the original Indigenous custodians of the land and their long and continuing relationship with their country. It is a way of showing awareness of, and respect for the original Indigenous custodians of the land on which we gather. It should not be seen as an onerous task, nor something we become apathetic about. The acknowledgment is just one of many symbols that we use within the College to mark the value we place on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, as something that is part of who we are.

Mr Luke Royes – Program Leader – Liberating Education