Role of records: reconnecting with family, culture, and country for stolen Generations survivors

The Healing Foundation

International Day for Universal Access to Information 28 September 2021

On International Day for Universal Access to Information, The Healing Foundation is highlighting that timely and supported access to records is a fundamental aspect of healing for Stolen Generations survivors and their families.

The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth said that records may contain confronting or incorrect information and may not always tell the full story, but they are an important resource to help survivors find out about and reconnect with family, culture, and country.

“Finding vital family records is at the core of truth telling and healing,” Ms Cornforth said.

“Records help support knowing. They are often required for accessing redress and reparations schemes, and stemming the tide of intergenerational trauma. Ultimately, they are a catalyst for healing.

“Survivors can strengthen their belonging and can reunite with biological and original forever family – parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, and community.

“The Bringing Them Home report showed that access to individual and family Stolen Generations records was fundamental to locating and reunifying families, but problems in accessing still persist despite government responses to the report and the best efforts of Stolen Generations organisations.

“Records are managed under different legislation in each State and territory and are administered differently by individual churches and other non-government agencies.

“Survivors and their families face multiple and inconsistent processes when seeking their own or their family records, especially as searches often extend across multiple jurisdictions.

“Significant work is still required nationally to improve access to records for Stolen Generations survivors,” Ms Cornforth said.

The Healing Foundation has been leading advocacy on better access to records and is well placed to play an ongoing coordination role with governments and organisations to improve and streamline processes and attain national consistency.

This includes the establishment of The Healing Foundation’s Historical Records Taskforce to further the original recommendations of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report and provide advice to government on ensuring better access to historical records.

In May this year, The Healing Foundation and the Australian Society of Archivists released a new online education package to assist archivists, information and support workers, new and existing professionals, and students seeking to build specialised skills to support Stolen Generations survivors and their families locate records.

The Better Access to Stolen Generations Records learning module helps the sector describe the historical background of the Stolen Generations, including information relating to government policies around child removal and highlight the ongoing impacts of these policies on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today, including the recognition of intergenerational trauma.

The training package is designed around trauma-aware, healing-informed principles with a view to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a healing journey, accessing family records.

The Australian Society of Archivists reports that, since the launch in May, there have been 105 enrolments to the training module with positive feedback from archive and records professionals.

The Australian Society of Archivists’ President Nicola Laurent said the training provides best practice guidance to archivists providing access to Stolen Generations records, assisting in healing rather than perpetuating trauma.

“Better understanding both the history and ongoing impact of trauma on survivors means archivists can provide these vital records, including deeply important information around family, identity, and experience, in a respectful and safe way,” Ms Laurent said.

Ms Cornforth said that improving access to and the preservation of records relating to stolen children and separated families is a key recommendation of The Healing Foundation’s Make Healing Happen report, which was released at the National Press Club in Canberra in June.

The Make Healing Happen report sets out the following practical urgent actions for improving access to records:

· All governments reaffirm their commitment to managing access to Stolen Generations records consistent with the Bringing Them Home principles.

· National guidelines/protocols established for accessing records by State and Territory Births, Deaths, and Marriages registries, and for decision making by freedom of information and information commissioners/delegates.

· Overarching, statewide agreements formalised between governments and Link-Ups and other Stolen Generations organisations in each jurisdiction.

· Training in trauma-aware, healing-informed access to records rolled out for all record holding institutions.

· Pathways are found for accessing Stolen Generations records that are held in private hands and are unavailable to survivors and their families.

“The role of records in healing, redress, and reparations for Stolen Generations survivors, particularly in relation to truth telling and healing, cannot be understated,” Ms Cornforth said.

“On this International Day for Universal Access to Information, The Healing Foundation urges all governments, institutions, and other records stakeholders to work together to make a major contribution to healing for Stolen Generations survivors and their families.”

To view the Australian Society of Archivists training package, go to: https://www.archivists.org.au/events/event/better-access-to-stolen-generations-records

The Healing Foundation’s Make Healing Happen report is available at: https://healingfoundation.org.au/make-healing-happen/

To raise awareness about Stolen Generations survivors, The Healing Foundation shares this animation about the impacts of intergenerational trauma: https://youtu.be/Y-RaB19D13E

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address trauma caused by the widespread and deliberate disruption of populations, cultures, and languages over 230 years. This includes specific actions like the forced removal of children from their families.

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