Diane Bretherton, PhD, attended her first peace march, a protest against nuclear weapons, with her aunt in 1950, at age 7. By 1993, she helped launch the International Conflict Resolution Centre at the University of Melbourne, a position that melded her long-standing commitment to peace activism and nonviolence and her background in psychology.
For 25 years, Bretherton has explored the tension between nonindigenous Australians and Australian Aborigines. Recently, she and her colleagues have investigated how an apology from the government might affect those perspectives. The researchers interviewed a small sample of Aborigines to get their perspectives about what form an apology should take, whom it should come from and what difference it would make. In the 2006 study, published in Peace and Conflict, they report that forgiveness and reconciliation would only be possible following an apology.
Bretherton retired in 2004, but she's still working on Aboriginal issues. In 2008, the Australian government formally apologized for laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss," including those that allowed Aboriginal children to be taken from their families up until the 1970s. After the apology, she and her colleagues launched a project to examine what effect the apology had on Aboriginal people. The response, she says, has been mixed.
"As the apology was to the Stolen Generation, it is limited and does not include all Aborigines," Bretherton says. Many Aborigines she has spoken with emphasize the importance of deeds and actions. Although the government apologized, little has changed at the policy level.
Today, the relationship between the two cultures remains strained and unequal. According to a government report, for example, Aborigines make up just 2.5 percent of the total population, but 25 percent of the Australian prison population, and Aboriginal youths are 28 times more likely to be detained by police than other kids.
Bretherton hopes that her work might lead to "a more dignified relationship and partnership" with Aboriginal people. "We miss out on a huge amount by not reconciling," she says.
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