Indigenous Leaders Criticize Commission: (Or: It’s Hard To Be Heard Sometimes)


Image: Sam Watson (Source:

The web-site of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse states that “If you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and have been sexually abused as a child in an Australian institution, the Royal Commission would like to hear from you.”

The Commission is undoubtedly taking its responsibilities to Australia’s indigenous peoples seriously, but is hamstrung by its terms of reference which limit it to abuse within an institutional setting. Sometimes, however, the distinction becomes a little blurred.

This blog has covered several Children’s Homes where members of the “Stolen Generations” were placed. This was a scheme whereby the government took indigenous children from their parents and gave them a “white” education, then sent them to work as domestics or farm labourers.

Similar things happened with indigenous peoples in the other Anglophone countries. For example, it has been reported that, in the native language spoken on Tachie Reserve in northern British Columbia, Canada, the word for “police” translates literally to “those who take us away.” The same attitude prevails in Australia.

The problem for the commission is that it can investigate abuses which occurred in the Homes, but not out of the Homes. Many were adopted into white families, and some of these were abused there. The latter category does not come under the guidelines, because it is a “family” situation, which is specifically excluded. Yet in most cases, it was an institution that placed children into families.

This is where indigenous groups are most critical of the Royal Commission.

One Aboriginal, Murri man, known as ‘Paul’, has told NITV News about being adopted into a family where the father sexually abused him. He told his story to the Royal Commission but says that he was ignored, because he was adopted into a family.

“I told them what had happened, in more detail, and basically they said it’s not within their jurisdiction to investigate it. So, if they’ve got a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, why isn’t it being investigated,” said Paul, who also says he was ignored by the authorities in 2006.

[As of May of this year, more than 12,000 Aboriginal children have been removed and are in care, making up a third of all Australian children in care. One in nineteen Aboriginal children is in care, ten times the non-indigenous rate. Moreover, of the current group in care nationally, about 30 per cent have been placed with non-indigenous carers.  Aboriginal families fear the police and government agencies; they fear the child may be “taken”, according to studies.]

Long-time activist Sam Watson (pictured above), chairman of Queensland’s community service corporation Link-Up, says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander complaints are not being taken seriously. He is working for criminal compensation for the Stolen Generations who suffered sexual abuse in church and state run institutions.

He says the fight for justice is a fight against the authorities. “I really do believe it’s been hamstrung because the Royal Commission made a sort of a sweetheart deal with the major church groups,” said Mr Watson, in a serious criticism.

“The Royal Commission would not be recommending any form of criminal prosecution against these people who are going to be exposed. So you’re going to have witnesses coming forward, you’re going to have witnesses identifying paedophiles and perverts who’ve remained untouched for decades,” he told the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) of the Australian Government.

“I know from anecdotal reports across our community that when parents and family members go to the police and try to lodge complaints against these paedophiles, that nothing’s being done. That these complaints from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents are not being taken seriously,” said Mr Watson.

Last month, a joint statement from the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples member organisations declared the absence of a specific mention of indigenous people in the royal Commission’s terms of reference as a “major concern”. The statement says that “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people expect to see genuine, lasting and significant change as a result of the Royal Commission.”

The statement goes on to say that “It is critical that this Royal Commission focus on changing the conditions that led to this abuse occurring and ensuring protection for children in the future.  …Staff from the Commission visited our Roundtable today and praised the stolen generations’ organisations they had worked with in the Kimberley for their role supporting community members to come before the Commission.”

It continues saying that “Our organisations are best placed to deliver these services yet when the Government provided funding for support services it only went to large mainstream non Aboriginal NGOS (see previous posting).

“This and many other services around the country need more resources to do their work. The meeting calls upon the Government to immediately provide adequate funding to Aboriginal community controlled organisations, to provide much needed services to meet current demand across states and territories.”

The Roundtable statement agreed on the following principles that the Commission should consider in its deliberations:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a long history of contact with Australia’s institutions which must be recognized by the Commission
  • The stories of our peoples must not be overlooked; their experiences must contribute to the findings of the inquiry
  • The Commission must engage broadly and appropriately with our communities, taking into account the cultural and social aspects of our peoples in order to engage effectively
  • It is critical that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are offered culturally appropriate, competent support before, during and after the inquiry
  • The Commission should fund research and support our organisations to provide relevant policy information and expertise
  • Our people are being asked to talk about experiences of the abuse. They need to be confident that telling their stories will lead to reforms in policy, systems, attitudes, resources and service delivery

Organisations supporting the statement include:

  • National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
  • Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC)
  • National Stolen Generations Alliance
  • First Peoples Disability Network (Australia)
  • National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum
  • National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS)

Given the long history of involvement of religious organisations, including the Catholic Church, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, it would not be surprising to find that some have attempted to use the Towards Healing process. If that is indeed the case, then, at least in future deliberations on that process, the Commission should ensure cultural sensitivities prevail, and the criticisms mentioned above are taken into account, seriously.

It is quite clear that at least one Commissioner is well aware of the implications of culture-specific responses, and that the Commission is attempting to do the right thing in its interviewing of indigenous victims, but the concerns of people like Sammy Watson and “Paul” must also be acknowledged, if Australia is move onto the next step in reconciliation, after the official apology by former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, with the “Stolen Generations.”

[Postscript: Australia’s first female Indigenous Senator, Nova Peris, has yet to comment on the Royal Commission issues. She will take her seat in the Senate next July.]

Read more here:

Pro-Catholic Propaganda Feature: In the interests of a “fair and balanced” blog, the following photo from the Vatican PR Unit is re-posted.


TOMORROW: Why won’t George Pell speak?

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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