Grandmothers Against Removal (Australia)
About: GMAR was started in 2014 by First Nations community members who are directly affected by forced child removals. We are a community group that works to stop the ongoing Stolen Generations.
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‘Australia’s dirty little secret’: Grandmothers urge action on child removals in Canberra
By Nakari Thorpe 28 May 2018
A national delegation of First Nations grandmothers travelled to Canberra to call for an immediate end to the removal of Indigenous children from their families in the lead up to National Sorry Day
On Thursday, a delegation of First Nations grandmothers sat in anticipation around a table in Linda Burney’s parliamentary office.
They travelled thousands of kilometres, from the Central Desert and Queensland, to bring an urgent message to Canberra about the ongoing removal of Indigenous children from their families.
“This will stop,” says Aunty Hazel Collins.
“No more of our children will be forcibly removed and forced to live an alien lifestyle. They are our children,” she said.
Joined by her daughter Helen and four other grandmothers, Aunty Hazel said the fact the government isn’t listening is “very sad”.
“It is honestly with disgust that I stand here today and again rehash the criminal activities – of a department and a government – that is failing our people across Australia,” she said.
“Our children are still being taken, abducted by a department and a government at an alarming rate. The way in which they are taken is traumatic and lifelong, affecting our families and communities.”
“We have been demanding the return of our children to our families.”
Kaurna Arabunna Narunga woman Janette Milera was one of the grandmothers who joined the delegation. She was removed from her family as a child under government policy, known as the Stolen Generations.
She now takes care of her granddaughter.
“[I’m now] a carer, otherwise she would have ended up with a non-Aboriginal carer,” she said.
“To me that was important that she stayed within our family and within our kinship structure, so I could keep her connected to our Aboriginal culture.”
A connection that Ms Milera missed out on as a child. She now works with government to ensure future generations remain connected.
“We run cultural camps, we take the kids out and we have elders that teach them cooking, throwing spears, storytelling so that’s part of us keeping our kids connected to culture, something that needs to happen that is not happening with our kids in care,” she said.
Sitting down with Labor MPs and senators, the group of mostly elders told of their concerns. They would later go on to meet with Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion.
Minister Scullion said he was committed to working with First Nations peoples.
“As I said in my meeting with the Grandmothers, I am committed to working with all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country, my federal ministerial colleagues as well as the responsible states and territories to improve these systems and to protect the welfare of all vulnerable children,” he told NITV News.
Despite this, Aunty Hazel walked out mid-meeting.
“I felt very patronised by the way he was talking and things that he was saying, he had no idea. He was sitting in a room with a group of Aboriginal people that is telling him what is happening and asking the question, ‘what are you going to do’, and basically from where I was sitting the answer was ‘nothing’,” she told NITV News.
In early 2014, Aunty Hazel founded Grandmothers Against Removals, a movement fighting against the systematic removal of Aboriginal children from their families.
It came after her own grandson, Tyson, was removed from her daughter Helen Eason, by four Department of Family and Community Services workers and several police officers.
Baby Tyson was just 15 months old when he was taken from Helen, her fourth child to be put into care, due to past challenges with drug addiction. In Tyson’s instance, there was no risk.
“It was very hard for me to encourage her to let them go,” she said.
“He’d never been away from his mum but we didn’t have a lot of choice. We could’ve fought for him, we could’ve fought the eight, nine police and the four DOCs workers. I would’ve been there fighting right alongside her. But that would have traumatised our little baby even more.”
Aunty Hazel says the family didn’t know where authorities had taken Tyson.
“I promised my daughter, and my little grandson, that there would be no more and I started Grandmothers Against Removals,” she said.
After several weeks, Tyson was returned to his family.
She says governments need to listen to Aboriginal people.
“They need to stop removing children, we as families, as communities, we don’t get consulted. The department do not do what the legislation states,” she said.
“They do not consult with families prior to removal, they just take our babies.”
“Australia’s dirty little secret”
According to the Productivity Commission’s report on government services, there are almost 18,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care across the country – twice the number of children in out-of-home care since the 2008 National Apology.
“We are Australia’s dirty little secret,” says Aunty Hazel Collins.
“They take our children, they isolate them from families, they take away the very existence and essence of who they are,” she said.
It comes 20 years after the Bringing Them Home report revealed wide-spread devastation caused by large-scale removal of Indigenous kids from their families.
And it comes a decade after former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to those families.
With today’s staggering numbers, many say the Stolen Generations has never stopped.
“The number of our children being stolen by welfare is at an unprecedented high,” Grandmothers Against Removals said in a statement.
The group says governments must be made accountable for the damage caused and continue to do “to our people”.
“Trust has been broken over and over again.
“It is time to get out of the way and allow us to work together to keep our kids safe at home. Our law, culture and kinship systems must be respected and supported as the essential elements of our children’s well-being.”
The list of demands includes no further adoption of Indigenous children, an end to the institutionalisation of Indigenous children, restoring all removed and imprisoned children to their families and an overhaul of the child protection system.
The women are in the capital to also mark National Sorry Day on Saturday 26 May, held each year to acknowledge and recognise the members of the Stolen Generations.
Aunty Hazel says Indigenous children have a right to be proud of who they are and where they come from.
“They take our children and say that we, as families and communities, are abusing our children. Let me know tell you here today, the abuse that our children suffer – they are sexually abused, they are mentally abused, they are physically abused – we have children die in out of home care, that is black deaths in custody,” she said.
“They have a right to know where they come from, where they are, and where they are going in life. So that they can stand up and be proud Aboriginal people.”
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