The Stolen Generations: Forced into a New Culture

An Aboriginal Australian man giving a young boy a lesson in spinning string.
Preparation for Aboriginal Australian body painting.
Aboriginal Australian children bathing on Sunday Island, Western Australia, in 1916.
Aboriginal Australian artwork in progress.
Isaiah Firebrace, an Australian singer of Aboriginal Australian origin who represented Australia in Eurovision Song Contest in 2017.

As explained in the previous chapter, until around 1970, many indigenous Australian children were removed from their families and enrolled in government or church-run boarding schools. These children, whose parents were persuaded or forced to give up guardianship of them, became known as the Stolen Generations.

Cultural genocide

When stolen in the name Stolen Generations refers to being physically taken away from their families, it obviously caused great suffering to many individual children and their families. If, instead, the word stolen is used to denote the removal of a large group of indigenous Australian children from their culture, it amounts to cultural genocide, or attempts thereof. The reason why as strong an expression as cultural genocide can be used is that the Stolen Generations, deliberately, were removed from parents and community elders who could initiate them into indigenous Australian customs and teach them about the world they came from.

Admittedly, far from all indigenous Australian children were removed from their families, and many institutionalized children later came back to their communities with new knowledge and skills. Nevertheless, the policy of undermining indigenous cultures through forced assimilation and other restrictive measures has had severe destabilizing effects. Nowadays, largely due to the 20th-century uprooting of old traditions, alcohol abuse, poverty and crime constitute serious problems in many indigenous communities.

A multitude of lifestyles

But as always, reality is complex. While some people of indigenous Australian descent are having a hard time today, others have successfully adopted a Westernized lifestyle, or still eagerly cling to their old traditions. Still though, for the mistreatment of the Stolen Generations and the great harm that forced removals caused to the indigenous Australian community, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in 2008, officially apologized on behalf of the federal government.