In no sense has the Inquiry been 'raking over the past' for its own sake. The truth is that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. That devastation cannot be addressed unless the whole community listens with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and, having listened and understood, commits itself to reconciliation.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them Home: National Inquiry into the Forced Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (1997) 3.

Despite showing significant strength and resilience in the face of colonial injustices, members of the Stolen Generations and their families continue to be affected by the trauma caused by forced removal. For many people, this trauma has had lasting, intergenerational, impacts. It is important to acknowledge that healing is often an ongoing journey on both a personal and interpersonal level. Organisations such as the Healing Foundation provide support to individuals and communities to help to address the ongoing trauma caused by actions like the forced removal of children from their families.

However, reconciliation is the responsibility of all Australians. Reconciliation requires the Australian community to recognise and respect the First Peoples of this land, to acknowledge the past injustices, and the ongoing inequalities, experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since colonisation, and to commit to working towards a more equal and respectful future.

As Tom Calma, former Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commissioner and current Co-Chair of Reconciliation said in 2005:

Reconciliation concerns both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians - we are bound to each other's fate. In order to achieve reconciliation we must heal together - reconciliation is everyone's responsibility.

Tom Calma, 'National Day of Healing: Everyone's responsibility', Australian Human Rights Commission, 25 May 2005. At:

Remember the Past

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Fostering a future of healing and reconciliation requires  all Australians to truthfully and respectfully, acknowledge the past. It is only through understanding and accepting the wrongs of the past, and the often intergenerational impacts of these wrongs, that Australia can make adequate amends for the injustices faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples since European colonisation and ensure that they are never repeated.

One of Bringing them Home's recommendations was that a national 'Sorry Day' be held each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects. In the lead up to the first National Sorry Day in 1998, an estimated 500,000 people across Australia recorded their personal apologies for the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 'Sorry Books.' On 26 May, at a ceremony in Sydney, the 'Sorry Books' were presented to a delegation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Many of the Sorry Books are now held by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies. Excerpts from some of the Sorry Books can be viewed online.

In 2004, in recognition of their historical and continuing social significance, the 'Sorry Books' in AIATSIS's collection were inscribed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

National Sorry Day is commemorated each year on 26 May, the day the Bringing them Home report was tabled in Federal Parliament.

The Journey Towards Reconciliation

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In 1991, in response to recommendations made in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, Australia made a formal commitment to reconciliation by establishing the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia was established in 2001 to continue the work of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and to serve as the lead body for reconciliation across the nation.  Reconciliation Australia is an independent not-for-profit organisation which promotes and facilitates reconciliation by building relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Reconciliation Australia's ambition is to enable all Australians to contribute to the reconciliation of the nation. Their vision of reconciliation is based on five inter-related dimensions: race relations, equality and equity, unity, institutional integrity and historical acceptance. These five dimensions do not exist in isolation; they are inter-related and Australia can only achieve full reconciliation if we progress in all five dimensions, weaving them together to become a whole. Indeed, reconciliation in Australia can only ever be as strong as its weakest dimension.

Learn more about Reconciliation Australia.

The Reconciliation movement in Australia has, over many decades, made an important contribution towards reconciling the fundamental and unresolved wounds in our national identity. However, genuine reconciliation remains an ongoing journey. A timeline of key events in Australia's reconciliation journey thus far is available on Reconciliation Australia's website.

In 2016, Reconciliation Australia released The State of Reconciliation in Australia report. The report highlights the achievements made in our nation's reconciliation journey thus far and, based on the five core dimensions of reconciliation described above, makes recommendations for progressing reconciliation for future generations.

Contributing to Healing and Reconciliation

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There are a number of actions that individuals, communities and organisations can take to contribute towards building stronger relationships with, and respect for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

As an individual:

  • Join a local reconciliation group and support the activities of your state's Reconciliation Council
  • Pledge your support for Close the Gap, a campaign that seeks to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians by 2030.

As a community:

As a school or early learning service:

As a business or not-for-profit organisation:

Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) provide a framework for organisations to realise their vision for reconciliation. RAPs are practical plans of action built on relationships, respect and opportunities. RAPs create social change and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Learn more about Reconciliation Action Plans.

Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning supports schools and early learning services across Australia to develop environments that foster a higher level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions. As part of engaging with the Narragunnawali program, schools and early learning services can indeed develop tailored Reconciliation Action Plans, focused on driving holistic change in the classroom, around the school or early learning service, and with the community alike.

Racism. It Stops with Me is a campaign which invites all Australians to reflect on what they can do to counter racism wherever it happens.