Teaching Kids about the Healing Power of Words on National Sorry Day
National Sorry Day has been held annually in Australia since 1998 as part of the reconciliation process. The 26th May was selected for National Sorry Day because this is the date the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Australian parliament.
The report was the outcome of an inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children from their families as part of the policy of assimilation. It’s estimated that between 1910 – 1970, up to 33% of Indigenous children were separated from their families.
On 13th February 2008, the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to Indigenous people on behalf of the government and people of Australia.
National Sorry Day provides a valuable opportunity to talk with children about the history of Australia as well as the power of words to both hurt and heal.
Explain Why Words Matter
Everyone has heard the saying ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ The truth is that words are often used as weapons, and children understand this better than anyone. Cruel and thoughtless comments on the playground can have a devastating impact on a student’s self-esteem and wellbeing.
Words also have incredible healing power, as demonstrated by National Sorry Day and the government’s apology to Indigenous Australians. While words cannot erase the crimes of the past, the acknowledgement of the wrongs committed against Aboriginal people has helped to pave the way for greater understanding and empathy.
Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the time of the government’s apology wrote: “By acknowledging and paying respect, Parliament has now laid the foundation for healing to take place and for a reconciled Australia in which everyone belongs.”
How to Acknowledge National Sorry Day
There are several things you can do to help your student recognise the healing power of words on National Sorry Day:
*Attend a school assembly. Many schools hold assemblies to commemorate this day. By attending your child’s assembly, you will demonstrate that this is a meaningful date which should be acknowledged.
*Participate in a community event. Most communities will organise special events and invite elders to speak on National Sorry Day. Often speakers have been directly affected by the stolen generation. They can provide powerful insights into trauma and healing.
*Read stories and watch films. There are many excellent children’s books and films about the stolen generation. Books include Found by Bruce Pascoe, Sister Heart by Sally Morgan. The movie Rabbit Proof Fence is a must-see for Australian children.
*Learn about Australian history. One of the best ways of acknowledging the experiences of Indigenous Australians is by learning about history. There are many age-appropriate educational resources online which explain the damaging effects of colonisation in a way that is easy for kids to understand.
*Encourage reflection and empathy. Talk about what the word ‘sorry’ means to your child and ask them how it feels when someone apologises to them. Encourage them to consider why National Sorry Day is important to Indigenous Australians.
Helping children understand the healing power of words allows them to develop empathy towards others.