National Sorry Day: Indigenous woman's reflections on identity, culture and forgiveness

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As Nangala Woodley talks about her Indigenous family, her eyes light up with joy, although, she assures the journey to find them has been far from pleasant.



This is because she was taken away from her Indigenous mother at just five days old.

"I was born in Brisbane, [and] my mother was a single woman and I was taken from her," Ms Woodley said.

"When I met her [when I was 43] she said she didn't have a choice.

"Mind you that happened to a lot of Aboriginal women or non-Aboriginal women; I mean the sixties are known for kids being taken or adopted forcibly, and that's basically what happened to me."

The 52-year-old social worker who is now based in Mackay comes from a long line of Stolen Generations.

"My grandmother was also a Stolen Generations person and she and her siblings were moved from the Northern Territory to Cherbourg mission ... when she was five years old in 1911," she said.

"It has affected generations of my family."
'I can't forgive because it still continues today'

Ms Woodley vividly remembers February 13 in 2008.

It was the day former prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generations.

    Since the national apology to the stolen generations in 2008, and I was there, I saw Kevin Rudd deliver it ... the number of Aboriginal children in care has increased by 65 percent since the apology.
    Nangala Woodley

Despite witnessing him utter the five letter word, "sorry", she feels as though it was not enough.

"Since the national apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, and I was there, I saw Kevin Rudd deliver it ... the number of Aboriginal children in care has increased by 65 per cent since the apology," she said.

"So what was the apology for?

"When you say sorry you don't do it again, or make amends, you do things to make amends for the past wrongs. Clearly that is not happening.

"I can't [forgive] because it continues today."
Nangala Woodley with her son Jack
Photo: The 52-year-old social worker who is currently completing her masters in Forensic Behavioural Science hopes to educate the wider community about her history. (Sophie Kesteven )

Struggling with identity

Growing up in a foster family with a white father and an Indigenous mother, Ms Woodley said she felt as though she had no roots to her identity.

"But I experienced varied differences of abuse in that lifestyle," she recalled.

"I was always told by my white adopted father that I'm white and not black, so that was pretty hard.

"He basically wanted to eradicate any familial ties that I had.

    There's a distance there that can never be replaced because I didn't have the opportunity to grow up with them.
    Nangala Woodley, member of the Stolen Generations


"My adopted mother was from the same community as my birth mother, and I remember as a kid I would go to Cherbourg, play with all these kids in the street.

"I was talking to one of my cousins about it a few years ago, and she said 'do you remember that, and I said 'yeah, I do'.

"Those kids were my actual birth family."

It was not until Ms Woodley was a teenager that she discovered she was adopted.

"It had a really profound effect on me," she said.

"I had experienced a lot of abuse so I was already broken I guess, and then to have that on top of it, it just really sent me into a spiral ... not knowing where I fit in.

She said looking back in hindsight she dealt with the revelation quite badly.

"I ended up with a lot of trouble with the police and the law, and spent some time locked up as well, because I guess I had this unfathomable emptiness and I didn't know what to do," she said.

Eager to connect with her identity, Nangala has reunited with birth family.

"I'm really grateful for that ... but there's a distance there that can never be replaced because I didn't have the opportunity to grow up with them," she said.

"The family that I have met have been so welcoming, loving and considerate.

"They are just a beautiful bunch of people and one of my aunties, who sadly has passed away, she was a mother to me, she always said 'you're our family bub, don't ever forget that and you'll never be alone again'."

Hoping to educate others and pave the way for future generations, Ms Woodley will share the experience of being a victim of the Stolen Generations at a Mackay school on National Sorry Day.

 

By: By Tegan Philpott and Sophie Kesteven

This article first appeared on the ABC News online, May 25

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