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Setting the record straight on Indigenous justice

by Lack of transparency, Lost archives and heritage, Recordkeeping rights, Systemic failure

Gaps in the historical record have kept Indigenous people disconnected from their families, cultures, homes, and identities. The records that do remain have a pivotal role to play in the fight for justice, including:

 

    She struggled to reclaim her Indigenous name

    Danita Bilozaze knew that the name on her birth certificate, “Danita Loth”, didn’t reflect her Indigenous identity. The process of reclaiming her rightful name took the better part of a year.

    In July 2021, federal officials in Canada announced a new policy that will allow Indigenous citizens to restore their names on government-issued identification.

    An estimated 5% of Canadians are Indigenous and it’s unknown how many will seek reclamation. Most First Nations names were lost to history because of forced assimilation and poor government recordkeeping.

    Read more: NPR, 5 July 2021

     

    Canada pressured to find all unmarked Indigenous graves

    For more than a century, Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families to assimilate them into Canadian society.

    In 2021, the remains of 215 children were found buried at a former residential school. Searchers acted on a “knowing” in the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation community and located the unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar.

    The Truth and Reconciliation Commission identified more than 4,100 children who died while in residential schools, but the true number of victims may never be known because of incomplete or missing records.

    Lawmakers and First Nations groups are calling for all former residential school sites to be examined for human remains.

    Read more: NBC, 3 June 2021

     

    Historians fear Australian stories could be lost forever

    Historians fear untold Australian stories could be lost without a substantial funding increase for the National Archives.

    The war-time speeches of John Curtin, papers of suffragettes Adela Pankhurst and Cecilia John, and records of the Bounty mutineers are at risk as archivists struggle to digitise almost 400km of documents, recordings and tapes.

    Also under threat are the hearings of the Stolen Generation and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Royal Commissions, and the WWII-era personnel records from the Second Australian Imperial Force and RAAF.

    Read more: The Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2021 

     

    Brewarrina Mission connects past and present to Indigenous culture and heritage

    Aboriginal people and children from across far-western NSW were taken from their families and sent to Berwarrina Mission, which operated from 1886 to 1966.

    Historical records were made publicly available during an open day to help Aboriginal families impacted by forced separation.

    Former resident, Cherrie Frail-Green, said gathering long lost records would help those raised on the mission learn more about their family heritage.

    “There are going to be many people who don’t have any records of where their traditional families come from, so that can make it very hard for services like Link Up to try and trace back [their family heritage]”.

    Read more: ABC, 12 April 2021

     

    NT Stolen Generations “feel like the last people in Australia” to get Commonwealth compensation

    Eileen Cummings is one of 150 Stolen Generations members in the NT calling for the Commonwealth to create a compensation scheme.

    Raised by missionaries on remote Croker Island, Ms Cummings was unaware that her family was living just across the water.

    “Years later we found that if I went across the bay… I would’ve got to my country, but in those days, we didn’t know where we were,” she said.

    In 2000, the Federal Court in Darwin rejected two critical claims for compensation on behalf of the NT Stolen Generations. Lawyer Maithri Panagoda said there were many barriers to prevent victims succeeding in suing the Government for compensation.

    “The statutory limitation periods… loss of records, fading memories, a lot of people have passed away who could have been witnesses,” he said.

    Read more: ABC, 21 August 2017

     

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