Monday, April 3, 2000
Aboriginals warn of violent protests during Olympics
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) -- Aboriginal leaders warned Monday of violent protests at the Sydney Olympics because of a government report that plays down the harm caused by a longtime policy of taking Aboriginal children from their families.
"It's not for me to say there will be or won't be violence," said Geoff Clark, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the country's main indigenous organization.
"The fact is that violence is a part of demonstrations," he said. "What you need to do is be able to contain that, suggest to people that there shouldn't be violence, and that's been my call. I would hope people would heed those suggestions."
For months, Aboriginal protesters have said they would use the Sept. 15-Oct. 1 Olympics and the intense media attention the games generate to highlight the plight of their people. Until now, however, they had stressed any protest would be peaceful.
That conciliatory mood evaporated this weekend following revelations that the government believes accounts of the estimated 100,000 Aboriginal children taken by authorities between 1910 and the 1970s -- known as the "stolen generation" -- were exaggerated.
"A generation is all people born around that period," Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron told Channel Nine. "It didn't affect all Aboriginal people and that's the point that I'm making in my submission."
He was talking about a report from his ministry that was leaked to the press.
Under successive governments, children were taken from their families in the belief that Aborigines were doomed and saving the children was the only humane alternative. Light-skinned Aboriginal children were given to white families for adoption, while dark-skinned children were put in orphanages.
The government says only 10 percent of Aborigines were affected by the policy. It did not say how many people were affected.
Clark's comments, although conceding violent protests were possible, were seen as an effort to calm the furious debate sparked by Herron's comments.
Protests at the Olympics are "going to be very violent," senior Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins told the BBC on Sunday, in an interview rebroadcast in Australia.
"We are telling all the British people, please, don't come over. If you want to see burning cars and burning buildings, then come over," he said. "Enjoy yourself."
The report and Herron's defense of it have plunged the difficult relationship between Prime Minister John Howard's government and Aborigines to an all-time low.
Howard has been under fire recently for dropping a year-end deadline to achieve reconciliation between black and white Australia and for refusing to overrule mandatory sentencing laws in parts of Australia that are seen as discriminating against Aborigines.
"These are difficult issues. They are not resolved by sloganeering on either side. They are not resolved by using exaggerated claims on either side of the debate," Howard said.
But while describing the policy of separating families as "quite unacceptable and quite distasteful," he also insisted Herron's report was accurate.
Lowitja O'Donoghue, chairwoman of an Aboriginal advisory committee set up by Sydney Olympics organizers, said Aborigines should protest at Australia's parliament.
"I think it matters not whether it was a generation, (or) whether it was 10 percent, but the policy was wrong," she said. O'Donoghue was taken from her parents when she was two.
Olympics organizers refused to comment.