What the National Apology means to me

Alison McRae says closing the gap in education is a priority for Indigenous people.

On 13 February 2008, Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister, gave an apology to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had been removed from their families due to past government policies. He is the only Prime Minister in our history to have publicly apologised.

It was very emotional for me – something I thought I would never hear in my lifetime. My name is Alison McRae, my birth name is Jacqueline Ann Nelson. I am part of the Stolen Generations. What does the apology mean to me?

My brother Steven and I were removed from our family. Steven was my nephew and there was a two-year age difference between us. We were bought up as brother and sister. We were told at a young age who our family are. Steven passed away in 2010.

The apology is to help and begin the healing process for Indigenous people in this country. Historical and changing events like the National Apology and Sorry Day start the conversations to move forward in positive ways that can be beneficial to all, because they focus on Indigenous issues and what still needs to be changed to bring awareness.

It is an acknowledgement of our past, present and future. The past: what has happened in our history and to recognise what our people have endured for us to have freedom. For us to give our ancestors recognition to their achievements, because their fight has given us equal opportunities that we benefit from today.

The present is what changes are happening now: for Indigenous people to be educated and have a voice to tell our stories and reclaim our culture and identity. The future is to keep campaigning to create change for our future and our children so they can be in a space where they are included, recognised and respected.

I returned to education as an adult at Federation University Australia, picking up short courses to complete my Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE), a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing, and Bachelor of Arts (Humanities and Social Sciences) with honours. I am currently doing Masters by Research, focusing on Aboriginal Family History and the Stolen Generations.

I have felt supported and encouraged to continue my studies at Federation University so I can learn about my culture and identity. I am in a caring environment. All staff and students at Federation University have been encouraging about my journey of learning and healing.

Closing the gap in education is one of the keys for us as a people to continue and to be included in this nation’s story. Our culture is based on sharing stories. These stories teach us how to survive. It makes me be proud to be an Aboriginal woman and my voice can be included and heard. Today gives me the opportunity and freedom to be who I am, which is important to me.

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