The missing kids of the 'second stolen generation'.

By Stephanie Zillman

On the pristine coast of Arnhem land, Maningrida is a community living with heartbreak and shame. Families say they feel powerless in their fight against the Department of Territory Families, who are removing Aboriginal children at a rate almost 10 times higher than non-Indigenous children.

It’s a crisis being dubbed a “second stolen generation”.

Deepest despair

Maningrida elder Andrew Dowadi recalls the pain of his grandson being removed from his mother as a seven-year-old.

The wounds inflicted on his family have not yet healed. At times he’s angry — at other times, he feels deep despair.

Mr Dowadi’s grandson was put under a permanent care order and placed with foster families in Darwin. He was not able to return home until he was 18.

“He lost his language. He definitely lost his language. And he was shy to come back. And he was shamed to come back … so I have to sit beside him. I say don’t worry about it, we go back home now. We’re heading home,” Mr Dowadi says.

“I just don’t know what to do. Kids crying out for their mothers and fathers. They’re not rightful to take those children away.”

Mr Dowadi is angered by what he sees as a continual undermining of his —and his community’s — authority to determine their own futures.

“You know they should come to us first for permission — if it’s right or wrong to take our children, because the parents have that right to say ‘no’. Even the community — they’ve got right to say ‘no’.”


He says the people who are left behind after the children are taken are vulnerable and put at risk.

“And they’re guilty too. If you keep on talking to the parents that lost their kids you know, they feel guilty inside. And sorriness inside. They’ll be empty inside,” he says.

We love our children

Debra (not her real name) is a Maningrida woman who recently had a child-relative returned to her care, but not without a fight.

She said she was humiliated by the Department of Territory Families, and made to jump through hoops in order to prove she could care for the child.

Having breastfed her own five boys, Debra had no experience in how much formula milk to feed an infant, and the child in her care became underweight.

She says was committed to fixing the problem, and wanted to receive help.

“He was really skinny. But I was really worried, and I loved that little baby. When I took him to the clinic, I said I needed help you know, but they didn’t tell me what to do. They just took him,” she says.

“Welfare mob when they come here … they keep secrets. They come and see us at home — tell us we’ll take this little baby.

“I was really caring for that little baby, because I love him, and he’s our future — we love our children, you know.”

Numbers tell a story

The trauma caused to Aboriginal families by child removals is by no means unique to Maningrida.

The Federal Government’s own statistics tell us Aboriginal children are removed from their families at a rate 9.5 times higher than non-Indigenous children.


In the Northern Territory, as of June 2016, 65.2 per cent of the Aboriginal kids removed from their families, were not placed with relatives, kin, or in Indigenous residential care.

The total number of children in out-of-home care numbered 1,020 in the NT — and 89 per cent of those children are Aboriginal.

The statistics fly in the face of the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, which is written into the Care and Protection of Children Act.

That principle means children are supposed to be placed with kin, or failing that, other Aboriginal carers.

Families and experts in the sector believe this is routinely not happening.

In a statement to the ABC, the Department of Territory Families said:

“Territory Families makes extensive efforts to keep children with their families, and always consults with family as well as relevant stakeholders and service providers when looking for an appropriate placement for Aboriginal children.”

Fighting back

The Burnawarra group is an assembly of respected elders from eight family groups who want to see things change once and for all.

The group recently successfully advocated in court on behalf of two Maningrida women, and their children were subsequently returned to them.


Buoyed by their success, the Burnawarra made a submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, and believe groups like theirs hold the key to closing the gap on the number of Aboriginal children being removed — if authority like theirs is officially recognised by Government.

As the most senior custodian of traditional lore in Maningrida, George ‘Gappala’ Pascoe said he sees the Burnawarra group’s role as both a peacemaker and a gatekeeper.

“One of the main aims is to bring the children back. We want to expose our kinship lore,” he says.

“We need Northern Territory to recognise Burnawarra. We’ve done a lot of referrals in a court system, worked really hard with our community, and it’s working — we won’t give up.”

As a victim of the Stolen Generation, Gappala Pascoe’s commitment stems from knowing the pain of returning a stranger to his own culture.

“When a kid is brought up in an urban setting, he’s totally thinking about suicide. Why? He lost his culture. He doesn’t know his family. He doesn’t know how to speak his language. This is what’s happening. I have experienced this before in my lifetime.”

This post originally appeared on ABC News.

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