Aboriginal children: Back to origins


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Content type
Family Matters article

August 1993


This article begins by looking at landmark events of 1993 for Aboriginal people. They include the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People and the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the Melbourne office of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC). The author then turns to the widespread practice which occurred between the 1930s and the 1970s of the wholesale removal of Aboriginal children from their families and their adoption into white families. The struggle for self-determination in the field of Aboriginal child welfare is next examined. The author looks at the development of Aboriginal children's services, mobile children's services and Aboriginal childhood education and identifies five themes for the further development of Aboriginal children's services - identity, extended family, caring for the environment, cultural transmission, and self-determination.

It is often the case that when we are confronted by problems and crises we tend as matter of habit to go back to basics.In the 1990s in Australia, with rising levels of unemployment caused by dramatic changes throughout the world that are reshaping the labour market and entrenching higher levels of permanent long- term unemployment, the accompanying ideology of economic rationalism is also putting great pressure on community-run services to conform to these 'new' times that demand reduced expenditure from Government.

These, of course, aren't the only factors that are shaping our world today. There are political and military developments in the world that, despite their relative remoteness from our place in the world, will nevertheless affect our sense of overall security and wellbeing. When all around is in a state of flux and nothing appears certain and fixed and we have nothing to take our bearings by, we may lose our way, at least temporarily.

These are the kind of times we live in and it was gratifying therefore to hear that this conference at least will be drawing on what we regard and firm, reliable and resilient by going back to the basics.

When I talk about basics I do not refer to basics that disregard our achievements over the years, nor do I refer to a return to reactionary values that denied rights to Aborigines, women, children and other groups who are regarded as minorities and disadvantaged. The basics I speak of are inclusive, egalitarian and recognise the rights of so-called minorities to exist as they see fit.

This broad theme of going back to the basics gives me a chance to reflect. It is not often that we in the community services field have the chance to do this, so this presents a unique opportunity to share some insights with you about the recent past and, more importantly, where we hope to go in the future. Reflection as much as action is an important part of the process of positive change, yet is neglected.

1993 Landmarks

This year, 1993, is a significant year, presenting us with two important landmarks. The first is that this year is the United Nations International Year of the World's Indigenous People - signifying the achievements we have made worldwide towards the recognition of our rights and our existence.

One does not have to go too far back in time to remember when the notion or idea of indigenous rights let alone indigenous peoples was a fantasy, therefore to have an International Year dedicated to indigenous people, no matter what the cynics say, represents a major recognition. It says that we have arrived on the international scene as a movement and a network of indigenous peoples around the world.

Our sense of security derived from a common purpose with others in similar situations has been consolidated. This sense of common purpose internationally is being directed towards the development of a Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. Once again, there are those who may well say that such an achievement is as useful or useless as all the other international treaties and instruments that have emanated from the great bureaucracy that the United Nations has become.

Perhaps there is some truth in this, but I believe that regardless of what the UN and it's member states make of such a declaration, to me it signifies the culmination of considerable effort on the part of many indigenous people from around the world. The links made and the cooperation engendered will ensure that we have available a network that will be the basis for any necessary future global action for the defence of our rights or for further advancement.

Viewed from this perspective, the establishment of the International Year of the World's Indigenous People is just the latest achievement in the forward march of the world's most oppressed peoples. The battles we fought in the past have made possible the victories of today, the battles we have yet to fight - and believe me there are many - will be made easier by the achievements of today, the most significant of which is the winning of the hearts and minds of many of today's generation.

These may not be tangible changes but they are firm and resilient, in the same way as the awareness that has developed amongst the colonised and women around the world has not disappeared but has been taken up by successive generations and added to.

The political climate may change and go cold and then hot, but we will not lose the sense of our own achievements, the experience and the knowledge gained from hard-won struggles.

If the language I use sounds militaristic, it is because we have been through (and many of us continue to live through) lives that are like personal and collective wars with this society and state. They may be mute; they are not bloodless and never victimless.

The second notable landmark in 1993, happens to be the tenth anniversary of the establishment of our secretariat in Melbourne - although this perhaps is not as important as the fact that SNAICC is 13 years old this year, and entering our adolescence. When SNAICC was first established we were often criticised by government for being impetuous and too radical. Little do they know what surprises await them in our adolescence!

Earlier this year at our national conference we paid tribute to the Aboriginal women and men who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the rights of our children and their families were respected. A number of names were mentioned, some of whom you may be familiar with, like Marj Tucker, who wrote the book If Everyone Cared , and about whom the film Lousy Little Sixpence was made, and Mollie Dyer and Mum Shirl. There are others whose names you may not know who struggled in anonymity but nevertheless contributed.

The landscape that confronted them in the seventies and earlier has been radically changed. It appears far more complex now. There are, for instance, almost 100 Aboriginal community-run children's services scattered around the continent, whereas at that time there would hardly have been a handful.

At that time too, there would not have been any legislation or policy that mentioned the distinctive nature of Aboriginal families and their culture, including child rearing practices or the special needs of Aboriginal children.

Rejecting the notion of Aboriginal adoption

A paper, the outcome of a workshop held at the First Australian Adoption Conference in 1976, makes very interesting reading and is not of mere academic interest to us today. In fact re-reading it gives me the chance to outline some of the original thinking which I consider to be very important guidelines for us all today in Aboriginal children's services.

In rejecting the notion of adoption because it reflected the 'values of white professional middle class society', this paper made the following statements:

Aboriginal self-determination is the guiding principle underlying current policies for Aboriginal people. Aborigines have demonstrated that the services that are most responsive to the needs of Aboriginal people are those which are organised and controlled by blacks.

Aboriginal people maintain that they are uniquely qualified to provide assistance in the care of children. They have experienced racism, conflicts in identity between black and white and have an understanding of Aboriginal lifestyles. Many blacks are products of white fostering and institutionalisation and have criminal records which attest to the conflicts they experienced. These people, however, are in a unique position to understand the needs of Aboriginal children and have a breadth of experience and empathy with Aboriginal children that few professional social workers could claim to have. (Picton 1976)

On the issue of identity the workshop said:

The nature of Aboriginal identity is misunderstood by most whites. They fail to understand why a child of mixed parentage should identify as an Aboriginal rather than as a white. Social workers are reluctant to place an Aboriginal child who is indistinguishable by his physical appearance with an Aboriginal family since they consider this situation will create identity problems for the child. The major point which whites fail to grasp is that in a racist society an individual is either white or black. One cannot be part black, part white. An Aboriginal child will soon learn from his white classmates that he is not one of them, that he is different, and that he belongs to the black community. Even if he looks white. The position taken by Aborigines on this issue is therefore that any child of Aboriginal parentage, no matter what his physical appearance or his degree of Aboriginality, is an Aborigine. (Picton 1976)

No matter what the shortcomings of this statement are in our retrospective judgement, the crucial points made in understandably emotional black-and-white terms (so to speak), underline the importance of identity, above all the struggle that has and continues to take place over our right to identify ourselves as we wish.

The days of so-called scientific descriptors of identity, according to quantities of blood - half-castes, full-bloods, quadroons and god knows what else, were being consigned to the scrap heap of history.

This was a time when many changes were taking place in Aboriginal affairs. Our people had developed a strong collective sense of power and confidence that had been forged in the fires of the worst period in the history of this society.

It had also been inspired by the anti-colonial movements overseas of non- white people who had overthrown European domination as it had been motivated by the struggles of African-Americans and native Americans.

Perhaps the greatest motivator, however, was our own anger and outrage at the callous destruction of our families through the wholesale removal of our children. This practice, which became a national policy in the 1930s and continued until the 1960s under the powers available to 'protectors' and Mission managers of the old Aboriginal Welfare and Protection Boards, continued in the 1970s under the terms of child welfare legislation.

Children are the guarantee of the survival and reproduction of any people. They are our future generations who we will entrust with the laws, practices and customs which we in turn have tried to keep alive. Our laws, practices, languages (where they survive) and customs are at the same time our reason for survival and the guarantee of our survival. Without them we have no distinct identity. We believe it is necessary to keep these customs alive because the alternative is destructive, individualistic and short- sighted. It does little or nothing to contribute to the future survival and advancement of the population of the world, let alone that of Australia.

Colonisation: the Aboriginal response

It does not surprise me to see that the world which is divided into the wealthy white minority in the over-developed countries of the north and the poor non- white majority in the under-developed countries of the south is replicated in Australia along the lines of race as well.

Aboriginal people are in the minority, but we have a great deal in common with the third world, including a history of colonialism.

Since the world-wide movement towards decolonisation however, whereas most of the third world has gained independence and proceeded to catch up on all the lost years of independent self-determined development, we have to continue to live side-by-side with our former colonisers' descendants in a society that was largely of their making with their rules and customs.

It may be easy and convenient for the descendants of the colonisers to forget how they landed there and how we got to this stage where we continue to be either the victims or the problems of their construction. But for us we can neither choose to forget nor take the convenient way out of pretending that any of this ever happened. The history that we experienced differently - the Europeans as the dominators and Aboriginal people as the dominated - is now a common history. It must no longer be swept under the carpet.

One compelling reason is that our children and families continue to live with the legacy of that colonialism and, more importantly, that we have never forgotten who we are. We may have changed our appearance in skin colour and dress code, but underneath this we are Aboriginal and we continue to resist the incursions on our culture, our values, our way of life and the interference in our families.

In the 1970s there also developed a body of opinion within government departments that what was happening was not right. People within these departments were also being influenced by some of the ideas emanating from overseas.

The 1960s and early 1970s had seen dramatic changes in the awareness of the younger generations who questioned everything they came across.

Many Aboriginal people were strongly influenced by the American civil rights movement, including its more radical strands like the Black Panthers.

Above all, however, the greatest influence was our own history and our own traditions and customs which we had held on to even through the darkest times. This formed the basis of our response to the violence of the Australian form of colonialism.

Aboriginal child welfare: the struggle for 'our way'

In the late 1970s Mollie Dyer, who had been working at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, noticed the number of Aboriginal children in institutions and the number of adoptive breakdowns. The Legal Service also found that a large number of its adult clientele had been removed from their families when children.

The information was not surprising to Aboriginal people. The effects of children being torn away from families and communities does not have to be researched for us to know that it can be devastating. However, the information was important in justifying our demands and in backing our assertion that the child welfare system that had replaced the welfare boards was also failing.

To the governments of the day, of course, these matters were largely a question of their inability to deal with this crisis, which indeed it was. I am still not sure whether it was because of the political pressure we put on them or because of their complete sense of helplessness in the face of the problems posed by the breakdown of the placement of Aboriginal children that they conceded and allowed us into the system. But whatever it ultimately was, our argument that it was absolutely necessary for Aboriginal children to be brought up within the families carried the day.

At that early stage all that mattered was that there was a real crisis on our hands and they had done nothing to show that they were solving the problems, in fact we saw them - the state welfare departments - as the problem.

Our demands were for self-determination in the field of child welfare. Our rights to bring up our children as we saw fit was another aspect of our demands. Everyone else in this society could do so without unwarranted intrusion, why shouldn't we?

It was also apparent that we would have to demand changes to the law and policy, while at the same time taking over much of the role of the departments. The imposition of white middle class values of social workers, the courts and other government staff meant that the law was being applied differently to our children because they were black and living in poverty - two factors we had no responsibility for creating.

The system at that time did not recognise the existence of difference kinship and value systems. The extended family, which had been and continues to be the backbone of our communities and tribes, also had different ways of child- rearing, with non-European roles and responsibilities in relation to children.

People working within the system could not understand how poverty with your family was preferable to material comforts in a white, nuclear family, who more often than not were unaware or insensitive to their racism towards the children in their care.


Upon reaching adolescence, many Aboriginal children in non- Aboriginal care began playing up, often confirming the racist views of their carers; other carers just did not understand what was going on and gave the children back to the departments in despair.

People then did not understand (as many do not today) that racism is a powerful and pervasive factor that our children confront every day of their lives. Because Europeans are largely oblivious of it and its effects, they are unable to deal with it or to prepare Aboriginal children for it.

To counter racism in everyday life one has to offer an alternative to it. It has to be explained and understood by children, whose self-esteem has also to be built up and strengthened to withstand it.

This cannot be done in conventional ways. It begins when the child is born and continues through the childs journey through playgroups, pre-schools and schools.

Neither is racism something that is experienced outside the domestic environment. Indeed, one of the most powerful ways it is maintained and perpetuated is through the media, which plays a fundamental role in popularising the prejudices prevalent in Australian society. It doesn't do this by making overtly racist statements about Aborigines, but it can do it by always portraying Aborigines as the victims or as the source of problems for wider society, by subtly evoking the insecurities of the white audience about threats to their homes and land, or by counter-posing our needs to that of the national accounts figures, the balance of payments or the economy. And as the 'victims', we become the poverty-stricken, the over-represented prison inmates, the malnourished, and so on and so forth.

These are all negative images that have an effect on everyone, including our children. This attrition, this wearing down of your defences as well as ours, does not see us as a proud people who have resisted European colonialism, in the same way as the proud blacks in South Africa. It does not herald our contemporary achievements, nor the achievements of our ancestors who continued to fight the invaders over the last 205 years.

The media, however, does not have to be addressing Aboriginal issues to denigrate directly our values and customs. By portraying largely white, Anglo- Saxon images on our television, film and video, the dominant white view is propagated with all its innate assumptions and values. The individualism, the fetish of young and the beautiful white body, the lack of values other than those of consumerism, are all challenges to everyone's basic value systems, let alone Aboriginal ones.

This is cultural imperialism of a powerful and irresistible form and all our children are exposed to it. To counter it we have to ensure that the community's network of schools, playgroups, media and family services are not just help with the relief of day-to-day problems but are propagators of Aboriginal culture as well.

This is what we try to do through our work in the Aboriginal Child Care Agencies. Our main concern is that when there is a crisis in the family that it does not break up the families - and when I refer to families, I mean the extended family.

Extended care

Many children move around their extended families in the course of their lives. This is what one observer of indigenous family systems in Canada has aptly called 'flowing care' (Wharf 1989), although he was referring to the movement of children in and out of alternative and extended family care.

It is a system that operates quite naturally without the intrusion of government or non-government organisations. It is, I believe, a safety valve for families and a means through which our children are socialised into society. In this system the elders in the family play a very important role, often being the pivotal figures or the focal point in most families. It is a system that operates in Aboriginal communities across the country, whether in urban settings or in the bush.

I know of many families who have had two and three successive generations of children removed and placed out of the care of their extended families. Our hope is that we can help them break this cycle through placing these children with other Aboriginal carers, but we are fighting against the odds despite the successes of many of them.

Ever since we first set up our children's services we have always adhered to some basic principles.

  • First, they must conform to our desire to determine ourselves the way they run, how they are run and by whom they are run on a day-to-day basis. This is the principle of self-determination which we insist is our right as indigenous people, and as people who have experienced the worst excesses of colonialism in our own land.
  • Second, by virtue of this right we also demand the right to bring up our children as Aboriginal children - that is, being able to rear them in a way which is uniquely Aboriginal, in the understanding and beliefs of their particular community, in language, custom, culture and religion. They too have this right and are entitled to be treated with respect as Aboriginal children and with the opportunity to be brought up with our values and beliefs.
  • Third, because of our socio-economic position of comparative disadvantage, our services are going to require additional assistance to ensure they are able to carry out the extra support for the families and children that are required to enable them to use these services.

These three very simple and basic principles are the foundations of all our services and should be respected by governments. They are the result of our own needs and the outcome of the struggles we have undergone. They are history's legacy too.The theft of our land has meant that most of us have been dispossessed of our ancestral lands and left without the means to be self-sufficient even if we choose to. The years of our dependence on the state in the form of the Aboriginal welfare boards and racism in the labour market has consigned us to the lowest level of socio- economic status in this country. Our desire to pursue cultural activities and our concern with maintaining our cultural networks has meant that we have been penalised. When forced to make a choice between our identity and culture and trying to fit into the European way of life, most of us have naturally opted for our culture and people.

Existing Aboriginal children's services

Hence our socio-economic status and cultural differences and needs means that our children's services are not the same as the mainstream children's services. They are community development and support services as well.

Aboriginal communities in New South Wales expressed the feelings of all Aboriginal communities when they said that, 'child care services that meet the spiritual, social, cultural, emotional, economic and intellectual needs of Aboriginal children and their families should be available within the scope of the Children's Services Program' (Report 1992).

At the present time the types of services which exist for children are playgroups, pre-schools, multifunctional Aboriginal children's services (MACS), outside school hour care, mobile services, and Aboriginal Child Care Agencies (ACCAs).

Our Multifunctional Aboriginal Children's Services, unlike mainstream child care services, are not geared mainly towards the needs of working parents but to those on low incomes and the most needy sections of our population.

'In general services have given access to Aboriginal children from low income families including situations where parents are required to attend training courses, but also take into account special circumstances such as domestic violence, children at risk of abuse or neglect' (Report 1992).

Children's services at this end of the spectrum are acutely aware of the role that they play in preparing children for their introduction into the education system. It has been noted that Aboriginal children who go through some form of children's service also perform better once they get to school. Our services are also centres of community activity, where they provide a focus and a means to further enhance the self-esteem of our people and children.

The three basic principles mentioned above arose consistently and regularly when our people made demands for changes.

When the first Aboriginal Child Care Agencies were set up their primary concern was the ending of the large numbers of children whose lives were being systematically destroyed and damaged by the incompetence and racism of the state welfare departments. The political battle had to be fought at the same time as the practice of informal placements continued.

Mobile children's services

The last type of children's service and perhaps the most relevant for the north- west of Australia, in my opinion, are mobile children's services. With the Aboriginal population living in scattered and small sized settlements, mobile services may be the most appropriate type of service to cater for a population that can also be mobile. At the present time in Australia, there are only three Aboriginal community- controlled and run mobile services. This, given the proportion of Aboriginal people living in rural and remote areas, is an appallingly small number.

At last year's 'Mobile Muster' in Adelaide a resolution was passed by the assembled delegates, calling on the Department of Health Housing and Community Services to fund SNAICC to carry out a national survey of the needs in this respect amongst Aboriginal communities. To date this has not happened, and I am acutely aware of the fact that the problems in remote and rural parts of Australia are such that many Aboriginal children end up being sent away from their communities.

The disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal children in the juvenile justice and child welfare system that come from outside the urban centres in this country, attests to the fact that not enough is being done to keep our children in their communities and in touch with their cultural backgrounds.

In these circumstances and with this in mind, the importance of good, high quality, Aboriginal-run, culturally appropriate services for our children take on a critical importance. These services become a matter of whether our communities survive, and not, as in the case of mainstream services, just a matter of services for children.

Issues of Aboriginal childhood education

Many people concerned themselves with racism in education and the assimilationist tendency inherent in curricula. Although school retention rates are improving fast, at that time the whole system was a shambles. In much the same manner as South African white society schooled black children into the dispossessed unskilled working class, Aboriginal children were prepared for unskilled work, and women for lives as domestics.

The limitation on the achievement of our children was firmly defined first by the colonial/pastoral system, and later on by the desire of the state to rid itself of the Aboriginal 'problem' through segregation and assimilation/integration.

However, human beings of every race will assert their humanity in their particular way - that is, through the weight and manner of their traditions, customs and experiences. Colonialism and racism has always been challenged by us in every sphere of life, in every possible way, depending on the assessment of our own strength and position in relation to our dominators/oppressors.

Our resistance (past and present) has become part of our custom and folklore, our traditions, and these are nowadays passed on to our children.

Resistance is not just a political thing, in fact it is usually a cultural expression. It comes out in our songs, our stories, our paintings and in our sporting achievements.

Our opposition therefore is not defined by racism and colonialism alone but by our own intervention through, amongst other things, our cultural expression, in the celebration and commemoration of our land, its flora and fauna, and our people's achievements.

These are the things that have to be passed on to our children. We do not and cannot split or separate our history into compartments, neither can it be thrown away. This would be like throwing part of us away. It is ours to pass on to future generations of Aboriginal children and non-Aboriginal children who will also one day hopefully accept it as their heritage.

In the meantime though, we have to make sure Aboriginal children have these treasures to take with them into the future because future generations will have to learn from them, because even though there have been improvements in the telling of history, there are still many gaps. And, in any case, history can be told in many ways, not just through history books.

The way we do this is obviously important as well. It is my belief that we should use the existing strengths of our communities and families to work for our children's services.

Our elders have always played a very important role in our communities, in an informal sense, in their families and in community affairs. They should be brought into our children's services as well, in a formal way through using their knowledge, experience and human relations skills in the care and education of our children.

These are issues of early childhood education, and in the field of education the National Aboriginal Education Committee has also asserted our communities' right to self- determination. It also underlines other principles in the early childhood education of Aboriginal children. As outlined in the National Aboriginal Education Committee (1985) paper, these are:

  • the Aboriginal and Islander child's identity should be strengthened;
  • the early childhood experience should contribute to the total development of the child as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person;
  • curriculum and methodology should be flexible and take account of the home life of the child; and
  • the aims must be to develop and maintain an interest in self-motivated learning, pre-school activities must be relevant.

As pointed out earlier, our experience of education as a tool of assimilation is still a very real fear - the fear of cultural loss and identity. We therefore continue to be vigilant about the effect of teaching and education of any form in relation to our children.

I should also mention in this regard the use of toys and other materials in the education of very young children. We should not take these for granted and must seek to understand the role of such things in the development of our children. I know for instance that in Britain there has already been race analysis of play/education materials/tools and they are developing anti-racist methods, toys and materials to ensure that we can avoid the negative influences of the unobtrusive aspects of the early childhood education/play of our children.

Many of these problems I believe can be avoided by ensuring that our families design and run our children's services. There will nevertheless be a need to study overseas methods to see how we can incorporate our culture into the 'technical' aspects of child development.

The upbringing of children is not however an innate skill. We are socialised into our cultural forms of child-rearing through our families and kinship links. For many in the Aboriginal community this just did not happen. The disproportionate rates of institutionalisation of our children, that is all too evident in Australia today, has antecedents in institutionalisation. For those who were forcibly taken away and brought up in European families and institutions, parenting is not a natural and easy process. Many of them experienced brutal treatment, others missed out on the warmth and love that all children should have from those around them.

Aboriginal Child Care Agencies are finding that they are helping second and third generations of children from families who were particularly severely affected by the policy of removal of children.

Parenting skills of whatever cultural form are learnt from a very early age and are such a deep-seated part of our psyche that we regard them as innate, instinctive. As with many other things, we really notice their presence when they are missing.

To break the cycle that appears entrenched for some families, our services must also perform roles such as support for parents and carers of children. For the immediate carers or parents, support, especially in times of crisis, becomes very important to guard against the risk of abuse and neglect. For children, parenting skills must be boosted through play/education at children's services where such activities are appropriate.

While many of the activities of children's services should be directed at the prevention of abuse and neglect, especially where there is a demonstrable need, these should be provided in a non-stigmatised way. It does not necessarily follow that focusing on abuse and neglect will be the most effective way of preventing abuse and neglect. Programs that raise self-esteem, pride and self- confidence in children through the arts, sports, and other cultural expression, for instance, may well be more effective.

In this regard materials are readily available for use in play/education activities, based on traditional stories, songs and other stories by Aboriginal people. Obviously, the best material for services are those based on the stories of the local area where these services are based. This way, Aboriginal children's services will also be fulfilling a role that is traditionally carried out in families and communities by the Elders in those communities.

In 1991 (Atkinson 1991), the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, in conjunction with the Aboriginal Child Care Course at the Prahran College of TAFE, put together a package consisting of a video, two cassettes and support materials that they call 'culturally loaded' which focuses on five themes:

Identity This spiritual feeling began in us at the creation of time and is what we still carry inside ourselves today. It gives meaning identity to our lives.

Extended Family The care of Aboriginal children has always been the responsibility of the whole community and not just individual parents. 'No child is an orphan.'

Caring for the Environment The improvisation of supplementary materials for our children needs to combine strategies that are environmentally sound, culturally relevant and in keeping with age appropriateness, durability and safety requirements.

Cultural Transmission Our culture has traditionally been an oral one, with knowledge being passed on through story, music and movement. These traditional teaching strategies continue to be essential in the transmission of knowledge in early childhood settings.

Self-determination The responsibility for training Aboriginal people as child care workers must remain within the control of the Aboriginal community. In this way, the transmission of our culture continues across the generations.

These principles are applicable in most settings. They are not specific to urban or rural Aboriginal populations, and neither are they culturally specific. They are broad principles which allow for cultural and geographic variations - in fact, insist on these.

Finally, the question of the restoration of our rights to bring up our children as we see fit. Colonialism did not just take away our land, nor just forbid us to practise our religion and customs, speak our language or observe our laws. In doing all of these things it also challenged and tried to destroy our rights to our children. We have always maintained our sovereignty in these matters and that is why, ever since we have had our national committee and eventually SNAICC, we have incessantly called for national federal legislation to restore and safeguard the rights of our children and their families.

Our children are no less important than our land and the question of our land rights - without one there will be no guarantee of the other. The Mabo High Court judgement is relevant to the matter of our children's rights because it recognises the existence of native title. To me this suggests that it therefore also recognises the existence of our customs and kinship systems, which in turn are linked to Aboriginal obligations to land.


  • Picton C. (1976), Proceedings of First Australian Conference on Adoption, 15-20 February, University of New South Wales, Sydney.
  • Wharf, B. (1989), First Nation Control of Child Welfare: A Review of Emerging Developments in BC, University of Victoria.
  • Report (1992), Report of the Consultation with NSW Aboriginal Communities on the Provision of Child Care Services, Department of Health, Housing and Community Services, Child Care Section, New South Wales.
  • National Aboriginal Education Committee (1985), Philosophy, Aims and Policy Guidelines for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander Education, AGPS, Canberra. Cited in Compulsory Years of Schooling, Schools, Council National Board of Employment, Education and Training. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education in the Early Years, Project Paper No.4, July 1992, AGPS, Canberra.
  • Atkinson, S. (1991), Child Care Resource Package, Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency.