Canberra to Give Indigenous Apology

CANBERRA, Australia -- Australia was set Wednesday to recognize that past government policies had degraded the country's indigenous people and caused a legacy of deep pain and loss that endures today -- and to offer an official apology.

The apology new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he wanted the parliament to endorse was welcomed as a powerful gesture of reconciliation between the descendants of Australia's original inhabitants and those of the white settlers who now rule.

"We apologize for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these, our fellow Australians," Rudd said in a written motion introduced to the parliament Tuesday.

The apology was directed at tens of thousands of Aborigines who were forcibly taken from their families as children under now-abandoned assimilation policies, and extended to "the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities."

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry," the motion said.

The apology -- which is certain to be passed when it is put to a vote Wednesday because both the government and the main opposition parties support it -- ends years of divisive debate and a decade of refusals by the previous government, ousted in November elections by Rudd's Labor Party.

It places Australia among a handful of nations that have offered official apologies to oppressed minorities -- including Canada's 1998 apology to its native people, South Africa's 1992 expression of regret for apartheid and the U.S. Congress' 1988 law apologizing to Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II.

The reading of the apology and the parliamentary vote was to be broadcast nationally, and communities across Australia were making plans to watch it. Giant screens were erected outside Parliament House for hundreds of people who traveled to the capital to witness the event but who could not fit inside.