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Research Guides

Tracking Family: A Guide to Aboriginal Records Relating to the Northern Territory

1. Introduction

Past state and federal governments followed policies of separating Indigenous children from their families. Children were placed in children's homes or missions run by the government or churches or, in some cases, children were fostered or adopted. These arrangements caused pain to those separated and their families and communities.

Two government reports have made recommendations emphasising the importance of making relevant records available to assist those who were separated from their families to discover their identity and to link up with their families and communities. These were the:

  • Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, established in 1987
  • Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, established in 1995.

The Royal Commission was set up jointly by the Commonwealth, the states and the Northern Territory in October 1987 in response to concern that Indigenous deaths in custody were too common. The number of deaths in custody was higher for Indigenous people who had been separated from their families than for Indigenous people generally. Many of the Royal Commission's recommendations sought to address this problem.

The Royal Commission recommended that all governments facilitate access to government archival records pertaining to the family and community histories of Indigenous people separated from their families to assist in the re-establishment of family and community links (Recommendation 53).

The Bringing Them Home report brought down by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's national inquiry reinforced the need for access to relevant records and made a number of recommendations about preserving, indexing and making available government and non-government (including church) records to assist people with family and community reunion.

Since these reports were issued, a number of bodies holding relevant records have prepared guides and indexes to records, and have developed policies to help Indigenous people access material.

Tracking Family aims to assist in identifying records relevant to Northern Territory Indigenous people by drawing together information from a range of government and non-government agencies.