Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Stolen Generations and emotion
What have been the long-term emotional impacts of child removal on survivors of the Stolen Generations?
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following book chapter contains images, and links to other images and videos, which may contain pictures of deceased persons.
During the 1914sto the late 1960s a government policy within Australia became active and allowed the forced removal of children who were part Indigenous and part white from their mothers. These children who were stolen from their families and communities were placed into institutional foster care, and are known as the “Stolen Generations”. Kinship, land, traditions and customs, and spirituality are all core values of Indigenous people, and their way of life. Through the removal of children, cutting ties with family and land, the inability to practice their culture, and the introduction of physical, mental, and sexual abuse, many Indigenous people suffered emotionally, physically and psychologically. The attempt of this was racial outbreeding . They attempted to force Indigenous people to assimilate into white society, and annihilate Aboriginal culture. Because of this act, there have been many emotional impacts that the Stolen Generations have suffered, along with their communities, and the generations to come.
In 1788 Australia was settled by the English, and termed the land ‘terra nullius’. Terra nullius means, “land not owned”, and the Europeans used this termas to allow themselves to take Australia for their own. According to Petchkovsky, Roque, Jurra, and Butler (2004) between 1788 and approximately 1840 the Indigenous inhabitants of Australia had went from 750,000 to 40,000. This reduction was due to the impact of the European settlers expanding, dispossession, massacres, and exotic pathogens .
The term “Stolen Generations” refers to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were of mixed descent (half English and half Indigenous), and therefore were forcibly removed from their Indigenous families and communities (Kennedy, 2011b). These children who were removed ended up being placed in Westernised foster settings, large group homes, and missionaries (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). The aim of this removal was to attempt to phase out the Aboriginality within the Indigenous people and assimilate them into white Australian culture (Kennedy, 2011b). This aimed at systemically removing Indigenous children from their families, largely for the purpose of the gradual eradication of Aboriginal cultural identity (Krieken, 1999).
These Indigenous children were placed into institutions that were run by the government and the church, and they were forbidden to speak their native tongues and from partaking in cultural traditions,sometimes disciplined by beatings (Pattel-Gray, 1991; Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). The staff that was in charge of looking after the stolen children was not highly qualified, and had hardly any idea on how to assist the emotional needs of the children . Some institutions the staff were physical and sexual abusers (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004) . The children had limited education, and were mainly taught how to work as domestics or station hands (Kennedy, 2011b).
In 1997 a report came out called “Bringing them home: The ‘Stolen Children’” (National Inquiry). This report contained evidence of the harm that was inflicted on the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, and the suffering and the misery that they all experienced (Kennedy, 2011a). According to Kennedy (2011a), not only did the Bringing Them Home report show the emotional impacts that the Stolen Generations, and their families felt, but also set non-Indigenous Australians as compassionate witnesses.
Traditions and Customs
For Indigenous Australian culture, it is passed on through the generations mainly via oral storytelling (Kennedy, 2008). A few other examples of how Indigenous Australians passed on their culture was through art, song, and dance. This is an important concept as this is how the white European settlers were able to destroy a majority of the Indigenous culture, as all they had to do to accomplish their goal was to separate the younger generation from the older generation.
Through the removal of children from their families and communities, a loss of culture, language, and land occurred, which enabled the extinguishingof that culture. When children were removed and taken to institutions, they were not allowed to practice their cultural traditions, and were not allowed to speak their common tongue.
Within the Our Generation Film (2012), a Gumatj clan elder talks about how the Westernised world constantly changes, as to suit the change in leadership and in the government. He discusses how their laws change, and how their culture changes with those. However, Indigenous clan laws never change, and this is because their law comes in through ceremony. Another Elder talks of how some Indigenous ceremonies are still active in today’s society; nevertheless, many have been lost and replaced by “white law” as they believe it is a better and more efficient way (Our generation film, 2012). Through this increase in the influence of Western society, but the undermining of the Indigenous culture, this creates a social breakdown in a vast amount of Aboriginal communities. Within the Our Generation Film (2012) it talks about how there is no positive future for people who are constantly told what to do and where to go by the government through laws and policies. Many Aboriginal testimonies from the Stolen Generations show an impairment in the cultural part of their functioning, as they were rejected from white society, but taken away from their Indigenous society (Petchkovsky & San Roque, 2002).
This indicates that the Indigenous laws are ignored and rejected by the white settlers. This sort of ignorance is what causes negative emotional impacts, as these laws hurt and destroy the Indigenous culture. The lack of compassion and understanding in white society assists in causing a sense of hopelessness and rejection within Indigenous communities. For many Indigenous people, this dispossession of their spiritual and cultural roots has allowed life-long suffering, and this suffering carries on from generation to generation. According to Kennedy (2008), through the Indigenous child removal process there was an immense social and personal price, as being taken away from their culture and families became a traumatic experience for both the children and their communities involved. Kennedy (2011b) and Krieken (1999) called the act of removing children from their mothers without consent ‘genocide’ as this was an attempt to destroy the Indigenous culture.
An essential component to Aboriginal life was their land. They lived by having complete harmony with nature (Pattel-Gray, 1991). Through the removal of children from their land, this created a sense of loss for many infants, which became more profound as they grew older. Within the Australia Human Rights film (2014) a professor discusses the child removal schema and states that it was genocide that had occurred to the Indigenous people. He affirmed that the reason behind separating the children from their families and communities was due to annihilating their culture. He goes on to say that not only did the Commonwealth nearly achieve that annihilation of the Indigenous culture, but also they cut off that connection with the land, which is a part of an Indigenous person’s identity.
On the land is where Indigenous people feel safe; it is where their home is. It is known that they used the land for their needs, such as food, water, shelter, and so on. However, by taking away that ability to nourish themselves from the land, they find other ways to nourish themselves, such as through alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and junk food. This unhealthy lifestyle is a result of child removal, and the dispossession of their ancestral lands (Our generation film, 2012). According to Pattel-Gray (1991) it is Aboriginal belief that the land owns them, not the other way around. It is because of this practice that European settlers termed the country “terra nullius,” as Indigenous people never set up fences or houses, as they were free to the land. This assisted in Indigenous people not being recognised as human beings, but as part of the flora and fauna of Australia.
Within the Our Generation Film (2012) a woman Aboriginal talks about how it is Indigenous culture to move about the land, and be able to be with the land. However, once the white Europeans had settled on Australian soil, Indigenous people were told to stay in one place. Indigenous children were taken away from their country by the church and welfare, and were basically put into a yard and were told that they were not allowed to leave, not even to see their families. An Indigenous person’s knowledge and identity is placed upon their land, and to be taken away from that is like taking away a part of their being. An Aboriginal woman from the Djapu clan states that their homelands are a very significant part to who they are as human beings. She discusses how it is important to the survival of their culture, and how much they are connected to the land. The government both did not and does not understand their system, and continues to not recognise their law. (Our generation film, 2012). Kennedy (2011b) states that the child removal process had devastating effects on the lives of the Indigenous people and on their communities, and that these effects continue to this day.
As stated previously, through the removal of children from their Indigenous culture, and forcibly placed into white culture, it increased the sense of not belonging for many Indigenous children, and made room for confusion, loss, and depression. Many Indigenous people were not accepted into the white society, and were not told about where they originally came from, thus creating a sense of confusion of what their identity was. In many cases of the Stolen Generations, many children were told lies about their mothers, and were not allowed any form of contact at all with their families. These children were denied any knowledge about their families, and most believed they were abandoned, when in fact they were stolen (Kennedy, 2004).
A loss of their land assisted in the loss of identity for many Indigenous people. Pattel-Gray (1991) states that for Aboriginal people the earth is sacred, it is where their identity comes from and where their spirituality begins. He goes on to say that through involving themselves within the natural world, they are able to look after their well-being. Within the Our Generation Film (2012) a Liyagawumirr clan elder discussed the impact of the forcibly removed children, and how their culture, land, and family were lost. He stated that he had no feeling towards it, no pain, just a hurt. He said that these feelings of hurt would continue from generation to generation, highlighting how detrimental the process of child removal was on all Indigenous people. One Aboriginal woman within the Our Generation Film (2012) asks what she is; Is she an Australian? Is she a Yolungu person? She cannot answer this as if she was a Yolungu person she would have rights, but as an Aboriginal she does not. She then questions if she is an Australian, but remembers that she has been rejected and discarded as an Australian.
Because of this loss of self-identity, it caused a number of emotional impacts for Indigenous people, such as: relationship difficulties, clinically significant impairment in social occupation and cultural occupation, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, a lack of confidence, anxiety, self-harm, borderline personality disorder and so on (Petchkovsky & San Roque, 2002; Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). These impacts, and many more, are due to childhood trauma and neglect that were caused due to the child removal process.
As stated above there are a wide range of emotional impacts due to the dispossession and child removal of Indigenous people, and this caused trauma for many involved. Not only was trauma inflicted on the children for being forcibly removed when they did not want to go, but also on the mothers, families, and communities who also did not want the children to go (Kennedy, 2011b). The National Inquiry explains the continuing effects of the Stolen Generations through using trauma discourse, and within this exposed to the public the treatment that Indigenous people, particularly women and children, went through, and labeled it as a traumatic event (Kennedy, 2011b). This traumatic event occurred through lies, force, brutality, abuse, violence, and an absence of comfort and affection, which resulted in more traumas for children, families, and the community (Kennedy, 2011b). These negative experiences assist in the inability to cope with the adult world and how to successfully handle the consequences of childhood trauma (Grahan, 2009).
Indigenous Australian children make up only 3% of Australia’s population; however, represent 24% of children that are placed within in and out of home care (Douglas & Walsh, 2013). This statistic can be determined to be the result of child removal practices, which allowed the removal of children from their families and culture, which continues to affect Indigenous people. Many Indigenous people have developed a sort of hopelessness, which means that people who are consistently exposed to negative events and situations where they have no control, may start to believe that their actions have no control over situations (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). Therefore, this loss of identity and new formed hopelessness experienced by children who were stolen, continues to affect the children of today, as this mentality has been passed down from generation to generation, as those who suffered the child removal policies do not know how to be role models. In saying this, the trauma did not end with the separation from their mothers and communities, but continued within the institutions and the homes that they were sent to (Petchkovsky & San Roque; Petchkovsky, et al., 2004).
Trauma causes many symptoms of its own, such as:re-experiencing, recollections, dreams, flashbacks, and cues that may elicit emotional and/or physiological responses (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). Due to this, many Indigenous people cope by emotionally shutting down, and/or avoiding anything that could make them remember the trauma that they went through (Petchkovsky & San Roque; Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). These emotional impacts disabled emotional nurturing for many Indigenous people, and impacted on their parenting abilities and skills in maintaining relationships. It caused Indigenous people to seek alcohol and drugs to help relieve their pain, as they were unable to keep their balance due to the dispossession of their children, their land, their culture, and their identity.
Poverty is another factor that has unfortunately occurred for a majority of Indigenous people, as a result of the Stolen Generations. Not only is poverty an issue, but this increases the chances for Indigenous people to have alcohol and drug abuse problems, suicide, poor health, education and child neglect, lack of job opportunities, and so on (Kennedy, 2008). Many Indigenous communities after the child removal policies, attempted to stay within their communities and keep their traditions and culture alive. However, due to the introduction of white society, and the ignorance of Indigenous culture, many Indigenous communities have been negatively affected. The removal from family assisted in altering the Aboriginal children’s environments, confusing them and making them unable to know how to survive (Hennessey, 2001).
When orally interviewing lawyers, Douglas and Walsh (2013) found that through the child removal policies and practices, a loss of identity and poverty highly occurred within Indigenous communities. Within the Our Generation Film (2012) an Aboriginal elder discusses how most Aboriginal people nowadays are suffering from poverty, as when the European settlers colonized Australia they attempted to assimilate Indigenous people into white society, but did not give them the necessary tools or education to survive. The elder states that before Australia was colonized, all Indigenous people were rich and healthy, but now they are suffer from illnesses brought over by Europeans and are in poverty because nobody showed the Indigenous how to live in a white society.
The forced separation of Aboriginal children from their mothers resulted in severe psychological consequences for the children, and many died at a young age due to introduced illnesses and suicide (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). For the children growing up to be mothers of their own, many found that they had issues bonding with their children, and were unable to successfully create and maintain social relationships during their lifetime. Many believe that this is the cause for why so many Aboriginal children today go into in and out of home care, as their parents are unable to bond and become emotionally attached to them, and some may even suffer from substance and alcohol abuse due to the severe trauma they went through growing up.
Many testimonies taken from Indigenous people who were part of the Stolen Generation tell of the physical, sexual, and emotional abuse that they went through, and how they are now dependent on drugs, alcohol, and have an increase of violence and suicide in their lives (Kennedy, 2008). Many mothers who had children taken away from them are known to have suffered similar results due to the loneliness and heartbreak they went through. Many Indigenous people who were children that were part of the Stolen Generation state that they have concentration difficulties, and have increase irritability (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). Many of these Indigenous people state that due to this circumstance they are further debilitated in being nurturing parents, as they are unable to handle their children due to the effects of child removal policies.
The National Inquiry assisted in acknowledging the effects of the trauma that many Indigenous people went through due to the removal of Aboriginal children from their mothers. The National Inquiry also acknowledged the continuing effects of trauma continuing within Indigenous communities, these could be seen through the high levels of violence, acohol and drug dependency, family breakdown, self-harm, and suicide (Kennedy, 2011b). FED (n.d) also assisted in showing some of the lasting effects of the child removal policies, as a report found that mothers from the Stolen Generations were three times more likely than other Indigenous mothers to experience violence. The report goes on to say that this could be a cause of learned helplessness, as when they were children and were taken away, they may have been use to violence and abuse, so when they are older they do not feel that they have control over the situation. Within the Our Generation Film (2012), an Aboriginal woman talks about how they, as mothers, discipline their kids as much as they know how, but with western society’s influence they are not sure of what is being passed on. She goes on to say that the white society that has been introduced to Indigenous people is an invader, and anything that comes from it is also an invader, as it has invaded their system, belief, life, mind, and soul. Within the Australian Human Rights Commission film (2014) it states that it has been found that the effects of children being separated from their mothers and families have been passed on from generation to generation, and have negatively affected parenting skills, as these were lost when children were placed into institutions where they grew up and by the time they were eighteen and able to leave, they were dumped with no home and no family to go to.
Integrating into white Australian society was a challenge for many Indigenous children. Indigenous children and mothers, due to the child removal policy, suffered emotional disturbances and experienced feelings of loss, hurt, and pain (Kennedy, 2011b). Domestic and family violence is an increasing issue within Indigenous communities, and Indigenous children who grow up in out of home care have an increased chance of having contact with the criminal justice system (Douglas & Walsh, 2013). Many Indigenous people suffer from emotional dis-attachment, nightmares, insomnia, and low self-esteem (Petchkovsky, et al., 2004). Many Indigenous people who suffered from the Stolen Generation feel a sense of rejection and humiliation for who they are, and have a sense of confusion of their identity and who they are as a human being.
In conclusion, it can be seen that through the Australian government policy of removing children who were part white and part Aboriginal from their mothers and families was debilitating to those it affected. Not only were the children traumatised due to being stolen, but also the mothers and communities. Research shows that the survivors of the stolen generation had many emotional impacts due to the severe trauma they went through during the time they were taken and the time they were old enough to leave . These emotional impacts were lifelong, and even have continued from generation to generation.
Australian human rights commission. (2014, June 11). Bringing them home: separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sl82VMuuKI0
Douglas, H., & Walsh, T. (2013). Continuing the Stolen Generations: Child Protection Interventions and Indigenous People. International Journal Of Children's Rights, 21(1), 59-87. doi:10.1163/157181812X639288
FED: Stolen generations mums more like to experience violence. (n.d). AAP Australian National News Wire.
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Kennedy, R. (2011a). An Australian archive of feelings. Australian Feminist Studies, 26(69), 257-279. doi:10.1080/08164649.2011.606603
Kennedy, R. (2011b). Australian Trials of Trauma: The Stolen Generations in Human Rights, Law, and Literature. Comparative Literature Studies, 48(3), 333-355.
Krieken, R. V. (1999). The barbarism of civilization: cultural genocide and the 'stolen generations'. British Journal Of Sociology, 50(2), 297-315.
Our Generation Film. (2012, December 6). Our Generation [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tcq4oGL0wlI
Pattel-Gray, A. (1991). Through aboriginal eyes. Canberra, ACT: WCC publications
Petchkovsky, L., Roque, C. S., Jurra, R. N., & Butler, S. (2004). Indigenous maps of subjectivity and attacks on linking: Forced separation and its psychiatric sequelae in Australia's stolen generation. Aejamh (Australian E-Journal For The Advancement Of Mental Health), 3(3), doi:10.5172/jamh.3.3.113
Petchkovsky, L., & San Roque, C. (2002). Tjunguwiyanytja, attacks on linking: forced separation and its psychiatric sequelae in Australia's 'stolen generations'. Transcultural Psychiatry, 39(3), 345-366 22p.
 Bringing them home: separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families [Video file]
 Our Generation [Video file]