National Sorry Day (26th May) and the Stolen Generations

Sorry Day and the Stolen Generations – Australian Government): The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 - one year after the tabling of the report Bringing them Home, May 1997. The report was the result of an inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

The public and political debate about the removal of children was marked by intense political activity since the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1992 Prime Minister Keating acknowledged that 'we took the children from their mothers' at a speech in Redfern. In 1994 legal action was commenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. These children who were removed came to be known as the Stolen Generations.

(Above Sourced: Sorry Day and the Stolen Generations – Australian Government website)

(Below Sourced: National Sorry Day Committee website)

National Sorry Day (26th May) is an annual day of commemoration and remembrance of all those who have been impacted by the government policies of forcible removal that have resulted in the Stolen Generations.

Sorry Day has been held annually on 26 May each year since 1998, and was born out of a key recommendation made by the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families in the Bringing them home Report that was tabled in Federal Parliament on 26 May 1997:

Key recommendation: 7a. That the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, in consultation with the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, arrange for a national `Sorry Day' to be celebrated each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects. 

The release of the findings of the National Inquiry in the Bringing them home Report in 1997 had a profound effect on the Australian public. The Report detailed unquestionable evidence about the forcible removal of thousands of Aboriginal and some Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities. When the knowledge of these policies became public, the National Sorry Day Committee formed soon after, and embarked on an awareness raising campaign with the aim of uniting the Australian public in the annual commemoration and remembrance of the Stolen Generations.

The first Sorry Day was held in Sydney on 26 May 1998, and has been commemorated nationally on 26 May each year since then, with thousands of Australians from all walks of life participating in memorial services, commemorative meetings, survival celebrations and community gatherings, in honour of the Stolen Generations.

The annual Sorry Day commemorations have helped to remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers, and the wider public about the significance of the forcible removal policies and the impact that they have had not just on the children that were taken, but also on their families and communities. The intergenerational impact of the forcible removal policies on young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens in the 21st Century have been profound, and the commemoration of National Sorry Day each year helps contribute towards a broader ongoing effort toward healing and social and emotional wellbeing for individuals, families and communities across the country.

For Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, these dates hold deep meaning - marking these days respectfully and with sensitivity is vital to building real connections between schools and their local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (as well as non-Indigenous) communities.

At the request of the National Sorry Day Committee, the Australian Parliament passed a motion in 2010 recognising May 26th as National Sorry Day, and as a day to be commemorated annually, as a way of achieving greater healing for the Stolen Generations.