Aboriginal medal-winner 'ashamed to be Australian'

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The Independent Online

An award-winning Aboriginal actress handed back her Order of Australia medal yesterday and added her voice to the crescendo of outrage that has greeted the government's attempt to play down a 50-year officially sanctioned policy of removing black children from their families.

An award-winning Aboriginal actress handed back her Order of Australia medal yesterday and added her voice to the crescendo of outrage that has greeted the government's attempt to play down a 50-year officially sanctioned policy of removing black children from their families.

Justine Saunders said that she did not want the medal back until she once more felt proud to be Australian. Several other prominent Aborigines plan to follow suit, including Charlie Perkins, a veteran campaigner, who has warned that violent protests will mar the Sydney Olympic Games in September.

Relations between the conservative coalition government of John Howard and Australia's indigenous community are now at their lowest point for years, after publication of a leaked report which denied the existence of a "stolen generation" of Aboriginal children.

The report, prepared by the Aboriginal Affairs Minister, John Herron, says that no more than 10 per cent of children were removed under the policy -carried out from 1910 until the late 1960s - of assimilating them into white society. It says the policy cannot be judged against contemporary values.

Among those who condemned the government yesterday were Sir Ronald Wilson, a former High Court judge who co-wrote a landmark report in 1997 on the stolen generation. He said there was no evidence to support the claim that no more than 10 per cent of children were taken from their parents.

Mr Howard played down expectations of protests at the Olympics, saying yesterday: "I think everybody should think and talk in a moderate, understanding way. We reject extreme language." He dismissed calls for the government to apologise for the policy. "It is not appropriate to have a formal national apology for things for which you were not responsible."

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