Message from the Vice-Chancellor: National Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week

Tomorrow (26 May) is National Sorry Day, an annual event to remember, and reflect on, the forced removal of large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, the ‘Stolen Generations’. On this day we also acknowledge the strengths and survival of Indigenous Australians.

This Wednesday 27 May also marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, which this year has a theme of “In this together” in recognition of the fact that each of us has a role to play in bringing about change, building positive relationships and greater respect and trust between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and contributing to reconciliation.

La Trobe campuses are situated on the traditional lands of some dozen Indigenous nations – and acknowledging them is a responsibility we take very seriously. On behalf of all members of the La Trobe University community, I say sorry for the wrongs of the past.

In particular, we acknowledge the impact of the policies of forcible removal. We apologise to all Indigenous peoples, particularly the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, for laws and policies which inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss.

We appreciate that the National Apology to Australia’s First Peoples, delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in February 2008, was an important moment in our nation’s history, and has helped in healing some of the wounds of the past. We also remember, however, that much remains to be done to redress the contemporary consequences of colonial practices.

La Trobe University can play a significant role in helping to ‘close the gap’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in areas including life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity. We are deeply committed to supporting Indigenous students and staff, and helping to lift the university enrolment and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, who are supported by the provision of dedicated, culturally-safe learning spaces. Additionally, all La Trobe students are required to complete our Wominjeka La Trobe module that aims to equip every new undergraduate student with a basic understanding of Indigenous history, culture and customs.

We also recognise that Indigenous people and communities are disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis is exacerbating existing inequalities in our society and is adversely affecting individuals and communities who may already be experiencing poorer health outcomes, or disadvantage such as housing and economic insecurity. This makes our collective effort to bring about reconciliation even more urgent and important.

Our future plans include reviewing our curricula, along with our approaches to learning and teaching, to provide for the embedding of Indigenous knowledge, values and perspectives in the academy. We will provide a culturally safe environment for all. And, in the spirit of the National Reconciliation Week theme “In this together”, we will continue a collegial conversation about how we might further decolonise our ways and our processes.

As a mark of respect to Indigenous people past and present, flags at all La Trobe University campuses will be flown at half-mast on National Sorry Day.

Let us remember the significance of National Sorry Day and, during National Reconciliation Week, I encourage you to take time to reflect on what we can do to further the cause of reconciliation at La Trobe University in the years ahead.