Sunday 26 May was 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.
La Trobe campuses are 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. Our Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous), Professor Dennis McDermott, has asked me to note that although Australia has a responsibility to address current, unacceptably-high levels of Indigenous child removal, this acknowledgement should not translate to feelings of guilt by contemporary Australians for past actions. Rather, Sorry Day is a time of participatory sorrow.
We appreciate that the National Apology to Australia’s First Peoples, delivered by then Prime Minister 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 such colonial practices. Further, 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. Along with all other Australian universities, we are signatories to the Universities Australia Indigenous Strategy 2017-2020 that aims to lift the university enrolment and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. We support Indigenous achievement by providing dedicated, culturally-safe learning spaces for Indigenous students on every campus. And 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.
Our future plans include reviewing our curricula, along with our approaches to learning and teaching, to provide for the embedding of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. La Trobe University is committed to being a culturally-safe environment for all and 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 Monday 27 May.
Let us remember the significance of National Sorry Day and reflect on what we can do to further the cause of reconciliation at La Trobe University in the years ahead.
Professor Kerri-Lee Krause, Acting Vice-Chancellor