Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the longest surviving continuous culture in the world, and possess a proud and rich history and identity.
To do justice to our heritage and to all Victorians, we must continue the journey to self-determination for Victoria’s first peoples.
The Victorian Government’s commitment to Treaty is significant and historic. But with a lot of work still to do, it is vital that the treaty-making process doesn’t replicate colonial models of doing things.
The best outcomes for Aboriginal communities will come when policies and programs are shaped and led by Aboriginal people themselves, and when Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing are respected and championed.
How can a bureaucratic process enable this?
The youngest member of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Jordan Edwards, 21, is a Wathaurong, Gunditjmara and Arrernte man. Speaking at the Assembly’s first formal meeting in December, he gave a roadmap for how the Government can move forward in good faith with Aboriginal communities.
“All my people since colonisation have screamed for treaty and now the chance is finally here,” he said.
“[But] I feel the lack of blackness in this process … A meeting of this magnitude should have been out in the scrub, in the bush, on country.”
In the spirit of respect and reconciliation, government representatives should meet with Aboriginal people in the places where they feel safe, comfortable and supported – in their own communities, in Aboriginal-controlled organisations and in the places where Aboriginal people are working toward the Treaty process.
It is important that the voices of young people are included in the Treaty process. And there must be a focus on ensuring that the many and varied voices of Aboriginal women are included, in keeping with the Victorian Government’s gender equity approach.
All my people since colonisation have screamed for treaty and now the chance is finally here
As Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman Muriel Bamblett – head of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency – points out, Aboriginal women are over-represented in family violence statistics, and are still having children removed from family and community at an unacceptable rate.
“This is not about a land grab, this is not us being selfish, ” she says.
“This is about our rights, our inherent rights as First Peoples of this country.”
The Government’s dual focuses on self-determination and on gender equity need to coalesce in providing Aboriginal women with a platform from which their voices can be heard.
Through a shift in power and control away from colonial and patriarchal structures – from government and mainstream organisations – towards community-owned solutions, all Aboriginal people can achieve meaningful self-determination, and overcome the health and wellbeing inequalities created by dispossession, marginalisation and discrimination.
As Jordan Edwards said in his historic speech in the Victorian Upper House chamber:
“I see the hope in this process to finally make a change for our people … We need to start to put our lore and our culture as equal, ahead of the colonisers.“
- Bridget Tehan is a VCOSS policy advisor and member of the VCOSS Reconciliation Action Group.