EDMONTON — Australian Aboriginal leaders in Alberta this week have a warning for Canadian First Nations celebrating the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.
Don’t get your hopes up, said Adrian Burragubba, leader of the Wagan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Representative Council from the state of Queensland.
Australia held its own inquiry back in the 1990s into the removal of Aboriginal children into state-run schools. The process resulted in a massive report and a national “Sorry Day” that’s been held every year since 1998. In 2008, then prime minister Kevin Rudd formally apologized on behalf of the government.
And that’s about it, said Burragubba.
“It didn’t help us. We didn’t get anywhere.”
Burragubba — in Alberta as part of an international tour to raise awareness about his people’s fight against a giant coal mine on their lands — said the “Bringing Them Home” report got headlines for a few days, then faded away.
“It’s basically an emotional feel-good thing and people moved on. The general population has this idea that our culture should be protected, but no one wants to help us out of poverty.”
If Canadian First Nations want to see action on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, they’re going to have to push for it, said Murrawah Johnson, part of the Australian delegation.
“It’s about social consciousness and driving people to action. You have to make people uncomfortable to make change.
“In their comfort lies the continuation of disadvantage for First Nations people.”
Like Canada’s commission, Australia’s report examined how Aboriginal children were taken from their parents by government, welfare or church authorities and placed into institutional care or with non-indigenous foster families.
The practice lasted from the mid-1800s until the 1970s. The report found that between one in three and one in ten Aboriginal children were removed from their families as a result of government policy.
But Burragubba said Aborigines still have to fight to get their land rights recognized. Only one Australian state has implemented a compensation package for those who suffered until the policy.
Burragubba and Johnson were in Alberta for a tour of the oilsands region and meetings with local aboriginals. They were to meet with Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adams to compare notes on how his band has dealt with the resource industry.
The two will also travel to New York, Zurich and London in an attempt to dissuade bankers behind the planned 280-square-kilometre Carmichael coal mine from funding the project, owned by Indian conglomerate Adani.
Bob Weber, The Canadian Press