Trauma of stolen generation remains in community

The trauma inflicted on Indigenous Australians of the stolen generation will take years to diminish, a Tasmanian Aboriginal leader has declared.

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre northern regional manager Lisa Coulson made the comment on the 20th anniversary of the Bringing them Home Report.

On May 26, 1997, the report into the forced separation of Aboriginal children from their families was handed to the Federal Parliament.

Two decades on, the Healing Foundation is calling for action to address the effect of unresolved trauma for members of the stolen generations.

Research commissioned by the foundation found that people affected by the forced removal of children – the stolen generations, their children and grandchildren – were 50 per cent more likely to be charged by police, 30 per cent less likely to be in good health, and 10 per cent less likely to have a job.

Mrs Coulson said the significance of the event would take decades to overcome.

“The stolen generation still impacts the Aboriginal community today and we can’t expect the effect of the stolen generation on a community is going to be diminished within a few generations,” she said.

“It is going to take time.”

Each year the Prime Minister releases a Closing the Gap report, which tracks the progress in bridging the divide in education, mortality and employment between white and Indigenous Australians. 

In 2017 the report showed limited progress in many efforts to improve the wellbeing of the first Australians. 

Aboriginal Australians are more likely to die earlier, less likely to have a job, and not be able to read and write as well as non-Indigenous counterparts. 

Mrs Coulson said additional support programs would “go a big way to improving those outcomes”. 

She said more could be done in Tasmania to improve educational attainment among Aboriginal people – and the goal of improved education needed to focus on the early years.

“Unfortunately if children fall behind in those early pre-kinder years, they struggle for the rest of their educational life,” she said. 

“Over all age groups, there needs to be additional support put in for Aboriginal children and young people.”

At the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre in Launceston reading and writing programs are run for adults.

But Mrs Coulson said it could be challenging to engage adults in those programs, with many feeling embarrassed to admit their difficulties. 

“We do come across low literacy adults in Aboriginal people and we do provide programs with tutoring for adults as well as young children and youth,” she said. 

Healing Foundation board chair Steve Larkin said failure to implement the right policies and services since the 1997 stolen generation was creating a ripple effect into current generations. 

He said many of the recommendations made by the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997 were never fully implemented.

“While progress has been made, there are still many Stolen Generations members battling with emotional scars because they have not been able to heal,” he said.

It’s not just about the people who were stolen as children – it’s their children and grandchildren as well.

Steve Larkin

“Most of the problems we see in communities today, including rising suicide rates and higher levels of incarceration, can be linked to the intergenerational trauma caused by forcibly removing tens of thousands of children from their families, over a period of 70 years.”

On Tuesday the Healing Foundation will hand a report to the Prime Minister with recommendations to address those issues stemming from the Stolen Generation. 

“This isn't just about acknowledging issues from the past,” Professor Lakin said. 

“We need to get this right for the future because we’ve already created a much bigger problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader Australian community.”