Hundreds of Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families as children are suing the government in a class action launched Wednesday that seeks compensation for the injustice.
Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths were taken from their homes and put in foster care with white families, under official assimilation policies that persisted into the 1970s.
Now known as the ‘Stolen Generations’, they were routinely punished for speaking their own languages or practising their culture, and many never saw their parents or siblings again.
Tristan Gaven, counsel at Shine Lawyers, said the legal firm filed a class action Wednesday on behalf of almost 800 impacted people in the Northern Territory, with thousands more believed eligible to join the lawsuit.
While other Australian states have set up redress schemes for Indigenous members of the ‘Stolen Generations’, the federal government, which had legal responsibility for the Territory when the removals took place, has not followed suit.
‘The Commonwealth was responsible for tearing apart Indigenous families in the Territory and it’s up to the Commonwealth to make amends,’ Gaven said.
‘It’s impossible to improve the future, without acknowledging the past.’
It is the first class action of its kind in the Territory, which is home to about 2,50,000 people — almost one-third of whom are Indigenous.
Heather Alley, 84, who was forcibly removed from her mother in the Northern Territory at nine years old, said the experience left her ‘broken for many years’.
‘They’ve wiped away entire generations, like they never existed,’ she said.
‘I joined this class action because I believe our stories have to be told.’
The lawsuit is being funded by Litigation Lending Services, which also backed an action by Indigenous Australians over unpaid wages in neighbouring Queensland state that was resolved in 2019.
Shine Lawyers said the amount of compensation sought was yet to be determined but, if successful, the lender was expected to receive a 20 per cent commission.
A spokesperson for indigenous affairs minister Ken Wyatt said ‘it would be inappropriate for the minister to comment on a legal matter before the courts.’
The case is scheduled for an initial court hearing in June.
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