As Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave a historic apology to indigenous Australians earlier this year, Latter-day Saint woman Lorna Fejo watched the televised speech with great interest.
In what has been called the “sorry speech,” Mr. Rudd apologized to individuals affected by earlier governments’ policies that led to Aboriginal children being forcibly removed from their families. These policies were based partly on the belief that the children would be given better opportunities if raised in white families.
Lorna Fejo, or “Nanna” as she is called by those who know her well, was greatly moved by the speech because she was one of the so-called “Stolen Generations.” She also helped the prime minister prepare for the apology.
During a 90-minute visit in the Canberra home of Mrs. Fejo’s daughter, Mr. Rudd asked Mrs. Fejo many questions about her own experience as a child and how that has affected her and her family.
In the speech given on 13 February in Australia’s Parliament, watched by millions of Australians and reported by the media around the world, Mr. Rudd recounted Mrs. Fejo’s life story. He said in 1932 as a 4-year-old child she was taken, per government policy, from her Aboriginal community. Over the years the policy changed and was eventually discarded until eventually the Rudd government offered the apology in an official act of reconciliation.
“I asked Nanna Fejo what she would have me say today about her story,” Mr. Rudd said. “She thought for a few moments then said that what I should say today was that all mothers are important. And she added: ‘Families — keeping them together is very important. It’s a good thing that you are surrounded by love and that love is passed down the generations. That’s what gives you happiness.’”
Mr. Rudd continued: “As I left, later on, Nanna Fejo took one of my staff aside, wanting to make sure that I was not too hard on the Aboriginal stockman who had hunted those kids down all those years ago. The stockman had found her again decades later, this time himself to say, ‘Sorry.’ And remarkably, extraordinarily, she had forgiven him.”
Mrs. Fejo has received numerous awards for her lifetime work to improve the health and well-being of indigenous women in Australia’s Northern Territory — including a project called “Strong Women, Strong Babies, Strong Culture.” The awards include the Centennial Medal, Australian Achiever of the Year Award, Northern Territory Women’s Achievement Award and Australian Medical Association Indigenous Health Award.
A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1973, Mrs. Fejo attends the Darwin congregation in Australia’s Northern Territory.
The speech in the Australian Parliament was broadcast live throughout the country and received both national and international media attention.