From National Sorry Day to the Uluru Statement, Where Do We Go From Here?

Warning: This article deals with the topic of targeted violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and may be triggering for some readers.

Today is a huge day. It’s National Sorry Day, and the sixth year anniversary of the Uluru Statement of the Heart. It’s a moment to reflect on Australia’s colonial sins and where we want to head next.

What Is National Sorry Day?

National Sorry Day is an annual event that takes place on May 26

According to Reconciliation Australia, “National Sorry Day remembers and acknowledges the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from their families and communities, which we now know as The Stolen Generations.

“We cannot begin to fix the problems of the present without accepting the truth of our history. Sorry Day asks us to acknowledge the Stolen Generations, and in doing so, reminds us that historical injustice is still an ongoing source of intergenerational trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Islander families, communities, and peoples.”

The first National Sorry Day took place in 1998, one year after the Bringing Them Home report was presented in our National Parliament. This report unpacked the government policies that led to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being torn from the arms of their mothers.

National Sorry Day in 2023

In the year 2023, National Sorry Day is still regarded as a useful tool by many First Nations people.  Katrina Fanning, an ex-rugby star and proud Wiradjuri woman, believes National Sorry Day is an opportunity for people to exercise empathy. 

“Where there’s parts of our history where there’s tragedy, where there’s struggle, I feel emotions for those people,” Fanning told the ABC.

“I haven’t caused a drought, I never fought in a war, but I have empathy for the situation that fellow Australians went through and the sacrifices they made to make this country a better place.”

If National Sorry Day can encourage us to think about The Stolen Generations the same way Fanning thinks about droughts, then we’d all be better for it.

What Is the Uluru Statement From the Heart?

In 2017, at Uluru, a National First Nations Constitutional Convention took place. That very same year, this convention drafted the Uluru Statement From the Heart.

The Uluru Statement called for the creation of a First Nations Voice to Parliament. A First Nations Voice would be a group of First Nations peoples who advise the Federal Government on First Nations issues.

But that’s not the end of the Uluru Statement’s ambitions. Once a First Nations Voice is established, they want a Treaty, and then they want a Truth-Telling commission.

In an interview with The Latch, Professor Megan Davis — a Cobble Cobble woman and Voice advocate — broke down exactly what the Voice’s role would be, and why it matters.

“The Voice will advise our government of the day on matters concerning the lives of First Nations peoples. It will not have any hidden powers or veto abilities,” Davis said.

“There has also been significant debate about whether the Voice should come after Treaty and Truth. The Uluru Statement calls for Voice, then Treaty, then Truth. For this nation-building to be successful, it’s vital that it’s done in that order.”

The Uluru Statement From the Heart: Six Years Later

As it stands, the Uluru Statement is on the precipice of both success and failure. Later this year, Australia will vote on whether we should establish a Voice. If the referendum fails, who knows how long it’ll be until we can reignite such dialogue?

What’s more, support for the Voice might have taken a beating recently. According to Resolve Strategic, support for the Voice has declined from 63% to 53%.

However, advocates for the Voice are still confident that they can win this race. 

As Voice Member Sally Scales told SBS: “This is the most over-polled thing ever.”

Scales went on to say that when she explains what the Voice is, a whack of people support it. She believes that these interpersonal conversations are more important than polling.

“When you start to talk to communities, people get turned on this one word: The Voice,” said Scales. “People don’t know the Voice.”

“But when you talk about community control, when you talk about community voices, when you talk about giving that power back to communities, that’s what the people want.”

Related: A First Nations Voice — What Does That Even Mean?

Related: Voice to Parliament Details — How to Access the Truth

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or you have experienced targeted violence, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), both of which provide trained counsellors you can talk with 24/7. If you are in immediate danger, call 000.

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