Eileen Cummings was 4 years old when she was stolen in 1948 from the cattle ranch where she lived in the remote Northern Territory of Australia. She was 19 when she saw her mother again.
Cummings has been part of a decades-long campaign for reparations in Australia and was part of a class-action lawsuit filed against the federal government in April.
The federal government of Australia said it will pay about $280 million in reparations — $55,000 each to surviving members of its Indigenous population known as the “Stolen Generation” who were forcibly taken from their families as children between 1910 and about 1970.
More than 100,000 Indigenous children were stolen in what former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described during a formal apology in 2008 as a “great stain on our nation’s soul.”
For 60 years, government officials rounded up children in Australia, especially those of mixed white, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parentage, and sent them to boarding schools and church-run missions. An official inquiry has estimated as many as one in three Indigenous children was stolen from their families, according to the Washington Post.
The goal was to erase all traces of Indigenous culture from the children, comparable to Native American boarding schools in the U.S. and Canadian residential schools for Indigenous children. The program scarred many of the children for life, Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission wrote in a 1997 report.
Australia’s 700,000 Indigenous people track near the bottom of its almost 26 million population in almost every economic and social indicator, Reuters reported. The impact of children losing their language, culture and family attachments lasted long after they were taken from their homes. Indigenous people face racial disparities in housing and education and are more likely to be hospitalized for chronic illnesses than other Australians, according to government data. Indigenous Australians are over-represented in prisons and their life expectancy is eight years less than non-Indigenous.
In 2020, Australia acknowledged that a decade of efforts to improve life expectancy and education had failed for Indigenous people.
The Australian federal reparations follow similar efforts by state governments in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia in recent years, Washington Post reported. Survivors will qualify if they were removed from their families in federally controlled areas.
“This is a long-called-for step to say formally not just that we’re deeply sorry for what happened, but that we will take responsibility for it,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told lawmakers Thursday.
Across the U.S., several cities and local governments have created commissions to discuss paying reparations or have already approved so-called “reparations programs.” Some economists and wealth-inequality experts have pushed back against calling these “reparations programs,” saying they are not true reparations if they are approved at the local level rather than the federal level.
After decades of activists pushing for reparations, some U.S. lawmakers are calling for a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for African Americans who are descendants of enslaved people.
The proposed government bill, H.R. 40, seeks to study:
- The history of slavery in the U.S. and American colonies from 1619 to 1865
- The role of the federal and state governments in supporting slavery
- Federal and state laws that discriminated against the descendants of African slaves
- Other forms of discrimination against the descendants of African slaves
- The lingering effects of slavery on African Americans