Jessica Schimmel – Williams Prize 2005
Killing Without Murder: Aboriginal Assimilation Policy as Genocide Introduction History is written by the victorious, the saying goes. This is a case of history being rewritten by the victims. From as far back as 1814 and until as recently as 1980, Australian state governments were forcibly removing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities with the intention of remolding those children to become part of the white, European society. Couched in the Social Darwinism and eugenics theories that were so popular at the time, the forced assimilation into European culture was seen to be for the benefit of all involved. Regardless of whether their intentions were benevolent or malicious, the perpetrators of these acts aimed to eliminate the Indigenous people of Australia through these Stolen Generations. 1 Simply put, Australia’s indigenous assimilation policy in the twentieth century – as embodied by the Stolen Generations – constituted biological and socio-cultural genocide. We may go home, but we cannot relive our childhoods. We may reunite with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, communities, but we cannot relive the 20, 30, 40 years that we spent without their love and care, and they cannot undo the grief and mourning we felt when we were separated from them. We can go home to ourselves as Aboriginals, but this does not erase the attacks inflicted on our hearts, minds, bodies and souls by caretakers who thought their mission was to eliminate us as Aboriginals. 2 Working Definitions Words have immense power, the power to do harm when wielded incorrectly. Because of this it is necessary to make clear from the outset what certain terms refer to in this essay. Genocide is a compelling, oft misunderstood word. It was coined by a Polish jurist named Raphael Lemkin in the wake of the German Holocaust. In 1944, he used the
Jessica Schimmel – Williams Prize 2005 Greek root “genos,” meaning race or tribe, and the Latin root “cide,” meaning killing to create a word for an action which was hardly new. Genocide is ‘the coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of the essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion and the economic existence of the national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity and even the lives of individuals belonging to such groups.’ 3 Genocide is most often understood to mean the brazen and deliberate murder of a group of people. Sometimes it is more sophisticated than gas chambers, starvation tactics, machetes and guns. Lemkin’s definition formed the foundation for the United Nations Convention of the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948. Article II of that Convention states that “genocide means any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”4 Here it is clearly apparent that the Stolen Generations and the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities into institutions or foster care (most often with a non-Aboriginal family) fall under Article II (e) of the Genocide Convention. It could also be argued that the Australian government are guilty of clauses (b), (c) and (d). Article III also made conspiracy and attempt to commit genocide...
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