As my family’s three-week trip around Victoria and South Australia comes to its final days, I find myself at Melbourne Museum, walking through an exhibit created in conjunction with local Aboriginal Australian outreach societies.
Amid the colourful artwork, a video installation catches my eye. Teenage girls with dark skin, clad in large worn t-shirts and shorts, stand in a calm river of water.
They playfully act out words in their indigenous language while a phonetic transcription appears in subtitles with an English translation. I pause to watch the repetitive video, awkwardly, feeling like it was not intended for me to see.
I have always envied those who could trace their family’s ancestry. While others could ramble off where at least their great-grandparents came from, I would sit in the sidelines imagining my great-grandfather was Lord Granville, whom half of Vancouver was named after…and maybe he was.
My family history was clouded by my own parents’ painful memories, death and indifference to our lineage. My own lighter skin, language, and surname do not reveal that one generation ago, my dad was a dark Mexican-Indian.
Like Canada, Australia’s controversial and deleterious methods attempting to assimilate those of Aboriginal descent into a Eurocentric society is baffling. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the Australian government sculpted laws to remove the rights of Aboriginal parents, making it then legal for children to be essentially stolen from their biological parents and put into facilities run by religious or charitable organizations.
Very much like the “residential school” of Canada, these mostly lighter-skinned or mixed children in Australia of the Stolen Generations were forced to only speak English and punished severely for embracing any remembrance of their culture. It would take more than a postcard from me to go into the details of the cases of abuse reported beyond the mental anguish of the abductions from one’s own family for the cases in both Australia and Canada.
Only recently there has been an acknowledgement by political leaders of the injustices lasting into the 1970s, although, in Canada, the last residential school closed in 1996.
In 2008, both Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and our very own Prime Minster Stephen Harper, on behalf of their respective governments, issued an apology to the Aboriginal nations for these injustices.
There has been more awareness into the history of these child abductions with documentaries and films like Rabbit-Proof Fence and Australia, but the damage has been done. Is there really any way to make up for the loss of being completely uprooted?