Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sorry business

It's been a while since I wrote. But today's been one of those days that you know you won't forget. This morning jan and I got up and watched Rudd's apology speech to the Stolen Generation. I was spell bound and sincerely touched, deeply.

I didn't expect it - I'm usually pretty jaded when it comes to political rhetoric, and often critical of public speeches of goodwill (after all, that's what I'm doing my thesis about!) Maybe it was the editing, the pastiche of proud faces of Indigenous people, at last being publicly dignified by a political leader. Or maybe it was just a huge relief, astonishment that Rudd got it right, he said exactly what I thought needed to be said, and it seemed sincere and appropriate. Whatever it was, it gave me chills. I felt, in my body, a sudden pride ... not exactly nationalism, more like a sense of welcome, finally being able to be in Australia without a nagging ambivalence. I'm not fully able to articulate it, because it doesn't fully make sense - the apology was "about" the Stolen Generation and the role the government had in it. But it had an electricity, a sense that it meant so much more in the process of reconciliation.

It hit me, powerfully, that generations of Aboriginal people have held out hands of peace, despite all the grievances they could raise. What generosity of spirit they must have found within themselves, to decide to seek reconciliation rather than nourish bitterness. It reminds me of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, less dramatic, but no less suffering. I don't know that I'd have that generosity. I suddenly felt a very personal, embodied sense of why alcoholism and other substance abuse are so endemic in Indigenous communities. I feel it in my body, that if I were part of a community that had experienced what Indigenous people have collectively experienced, I *know* I'd seek solace in self-destructive behaviours. Today, I suddenly experienced profound respect for Indigenous leaders, big and small, who support their community, and face their own grief and/or bitterness.

I hope, hope, hope, that the future holds greater trust and involvement of Aboriginal people in decisions that affect their lives. For me, trust is central. Aboriginal people know what they need, how to organise themselves and their communities, and what they don't already know, they need respectful support, resources and time to work through in their own way. It's such a basic trust that everyone deserves, especially those who tend to be treated with paternalism - Indigenous people, people suffering mental distress, prisoners, children, people who are intellectually slow ... I do hope that the respect shown today continues to guide this continent in the future.

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