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Lore, law and cultural authority at the heart of Victorian Treaty Authority

Introduction by Croakey: Last week, Co-chairs of the First People’s Assembly of Victoria called on Victorian Parliamentarians to pass legislation enabling the establishment of the Treaty Authority in Victoria.

In what Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Geraldine Atkinson described as an “umpire” independent from government, a Treaty Authority would “support Treaty-making in Victoria between the First Peoples of Victoria and the state government.”

Marcus Stewart, a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation, said “the Treaty Authority agreement is decolonisation in action”.

Although an agreement has been signed between the First People’s Assembly and the Victorian Government, legislation is required to facilitate the operation of Authority. The Treaty Authority bill passed the Victorian Parliament’s lower house last week.

Also making progress on Treaty discussions, the Northern Territory Treaty Commission’s Final Report was publicly released today.

John Paterson, CEO of Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, said:

This is an opportunity for healing for our people, and for all Territorians to build a future that shares and celebrate our strengths, together.

Along with the recent commitments from the Federal Albanese Labor Government, for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we have a real opportunity to unite in a fair and prosperous future for all.”

Below are transcripts of speeches by Assembly Co-chairs Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, published in full with permission from the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.


Aunty Geraldine Atkinson’s speech to Parliament

Hello everyone, my name is Geraldine Atkinson. Those who know me call me Aunty Geri and I hope I get a chance to meet all of you.

I would like to acknowledge Country, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded in this land.

I specifically acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land on which this Parliament House sits – the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people.

I am a proud Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman, I’m from the north-east of what is now known as Victoria, Country that flanks the Goulburn and Murray rivers.

In my language, I say, Galya Yawa Wuta, Nyuwanda gaka yapaneyepuk muma girrandjamik burraya, wuta nyuwandan yenbena barrpirrik.

This means, ‘Good morning everyone, We come together here today from near and far, for the future of all of our people’.

I do love opportunities to share my language and I love seeing the increasing willingness of people, communities, and institutions right across Victoria to embrace and celebrate our culture.

In many ways, the agreement we’ve reached with the Government to create a Treaty Authority led by First Peoples’ and grounded in our culture goes to the heart of this dynamic.

It recognises that the journey to Treaty isn’t only about the destination, but that how we get there is vitally important.

Our community knows what’s best for our community. It’s essential that First Peoples’ lead this journey – essential because it’s both the morally right approach and the most effective approach in achieving the best results.

But the journey also presents many opportunities for everyone to learn from and share in the strength and wisdom of the oldest living culture in the world.

Marcus and I are so proud to be here with you today to talk about the Treaty Authority – a vital piece of the architecture that will help us all get Treaty done.

We’re here representing the democratic voice for our people – the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. And we’re here to present to you, the democratic voice of the State of Victoria.

It’s remarkable when you think about it like that. Although a huge power imbalance remains, my people – the First Peoples, now have a voice and the means to communicate with, to negotiate with, to create with, this institution.

Sovereign power to sovereign power.

Many people have worked hard to make this a reality, but I want to take a moment to give a particular thanks to Gunditjmara woman, Jill Gallagher AO, who I believe is with us today.

Jill’s patience and steady guidance in bringing form to the First Peoples’ Assembly as the Treaty Advancement Commissioner is something everyone in Victoria should be grateful for.

Thank you Jill. I hope you are as pleased as I am to see such tangible steps being taken towards Treaty – this Treaty Authority agreement being a prime example.

There’s no escaping the harsh reality that Aboriginal people have suffered immensely at the hands of the Victorian State.

We were driven from our lands, murdered, herded into reserves, torn apart from our families. We’ve been unfairly targeted and discriminated against for generations – with the disadvantage and injustice compounding over the years.

But we survived.

We survived the concerted attempts to eradicate us and our culture.

It should be of no surprise that many of our people find it hard to place any trust in Parliament or have faith in Government systems.

Indeed, all too often, these are still the sources of ongoing injustices.

That needs to change and Treaty is way we can change it.

I want Treaty to restore the ability of my people to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country. An ability to do things our way.

This is why it is so important that the Treaty Authority is led by First Peoples and grounded in our culture, lore and law.

The Treaty Authority will support Treaty-making in Victoria between the First Peoples of Victoria and the state government.

It will also be the independent ‘umpire’ to help resolve disputes between our nation groups. It will do this our way.

This is not something that any colonial system can do for us. We determine who we are, who represents us, where our Country is.

We’ve asked for the Treaty Authority to sit outside of the usual government system.

It won’t report to a Minister that sits in this Parliament.

Its funding will be insulated from the whims of the usual political cycles.

I understand that this is different, but it needs to be.

Treaty needs to be done on our terms. Our people need to have faith in the path forward.

Our lore and law have stood the test of time, and I’m proud to see thousands of years of knowledge, wisdom and resilience of our people being embedded into the public institutions we are creating on the journey to Treaty.

Western court systems are combative by default, whereas the Treaty Authority will respect our culture – the starting point will always be dialogue.

Our culture has been practiced for countless generations. And I want it to be practiced here for countless more generations.

You each have a part to play here in ensuring this can happen.

I ask you all to walk with us on the journey. I ask that you give the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 your blessings and play your part in making history.

Don’t look back on this moment in years to come to see yourself on the wrong side of history.

Instead, step into this moment and have the courage to help create change. To relinquish a fraction of power so the Treaty umpire can be truly independent from Government.

In passing this Bill, the members of this parliament have an opportunity to facilitate the creation of the first permanent piece of architecture for Treaty making.

This is a positive step. And I believe it’s a step best taken together – all of us.

What a message that will send to everyone – a consensus vote, all sides of politics coming together to get us closer to Treaty in Victoria.

I’ll now hand over to Marcus to say his piece.

Thanks for listening.

Aunty Geri Parliament
Aunty Geraldine Atkinson

Marcus Stewart’s speech to Parliament

My name is Marcus Stewart. I’m a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation and I am a fellow co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

I will also begin by acknowledging and paying my respects to the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people – the Traditional Owners of the land that Parliament House has been built on – and to all Elders and Traditional Owners.

I say in my language, the Taungurung language, Gabimele (greetings), Ngun Godjin. [Marcus gave an acknowledgement of Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Country in Taungurung language]

The acknowledgements we give and the language we use recognises the simple truth that there was a society of people here before invasion. And we are still here.

As I did a couple of weeks ago when we were on Gadubanud Country of the Eastern Maar people, in Lorne for the ceremonial signing of the Treaty Authority Agreement with the Premier, I want to invite every elected member of the Legislative Assembly to look up at the gallery seats and take a look of the faces of the elected Members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

These people are the heart and soul of the Treaty movement here in Victoria. They stand on the shoulders of giants and have been able to deliver on our community aspiration, and our activism and our advocacy.

They’ve been out yarning with mob all over this state. Having the hard conversations. Finding the common threads and stitching them together.

They are the builders and the community architects.

I’m really proud to be walking alongside these people with the common purpose of securing tangible structural change that will improve the lives of our people.

The Assembly is living proof that sovereignty was never ceded – a bold and positive act of self-determination.

I also want to join Aunty Geri in thanking Jill Gallagher AO for her role in establishing the Assembly.

It’s a good example of the progress that can be made when First Peoples are put in the driver’s seat – when the solutions are crafted by First People and for First Peoples.

That’s what Treaty is all about. Ensuring First Peoples have the freedom and power to make the decisions to affect our communities, our culture and our Country.

So it makes complete sense that our lore, law and cultural authority is at the heart of the architecture we put in place to get Treaty done.

Since invasion, successive governments have by and large inflicted serious harm on our people.

For a long time the desire behind policies and laws — created right here in this room — was to eliminate us entirely.

First Peoples in Victoria live in the shadow of colonisation. It follows us wherever we go. Targeted, issue-specific reform may cast discrete beams of light into our lives, but only more profound structural change can eradicate this shadow.

Centuries have shown that the platitudes of the powerful cannot bring the kind of change that we need.

Treaty is changing this. It is about giving First Peoples the power to decide First Peoples’ issues.

If we want Treaty to deliver, if we want it to improve the lives of our people, we cannot move forward using the same systems that have been used against us or held us back for so long.

That is why passing the Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 is such a crucial step on our journey to Treaty.

The Treaty Authority was informed after years of yarning, consultations and engagement with our people.

As you know, building consensus takes time. And we come here with an agreement that we are confident has the backing of our communities.

This model will ensure that Treaty negotiations are not restrained by colonial systems and government bureaucracy.

Instead, these negotiations will uphold our culture, our lore and law, which has been practiced on these lands for countless generations.

By passing this Bill, Victoria would take a huge leap forward on the journey to Treaty, a huge step towards setting things right.

I will repeat the wise words of Aunty Geri: don’t look back on this moment in years to come to see yourself on the wrong side of history.

Instead walk with us and do all you can to support this ground-breaking treaty process.

Again: this model was designed by First Peoples, for First Peoples.

The Victorian Government has shown that they are willing to listen to our people. Yesterday the Opposition did the same. Demonstrating treaty is beyond politics.

So I stand here in expectation that the entire Parliament will support this Bill.

Treaty is about listening to First Peoples. Well, we have spoken. This is what we need – this is what we are asking for.

Without Treaty, what is now called Victoria will remain — in our peoples’ hearts, minds and reality — the colony of Victoria.

We’re asking you all to pass the bill and breathe life into the agreement.

Show the rest of Australia that Victoria is ready to right the wrongs of the past and create a better future together. To welcome in a united, not a divided future for all Victorians.

The sad truth is there are not many indicators that show a positive outcome of government involvement in Aboriginal peoples lives.

On the flip side, there is overwhelming evidence that shows when Aboriginal people are in charge of the programs and policies that affect our lives, they succeed.

If you believe that Aboriginal people should succeed, then vote for this bill.

If you believe that Aboriginal people should have the ability to make the decisions about our lives. Then vote for this Bill.

The Treaty Authority agreement is decolonisation in action.

I firmly believe that the journey to Treaty will bring us closer together as a society.

But I want to be clear: Treaty isn’t merely symbolic, as some have tried to suggest in recent days – Treaty is about securing tangible structural change that will improve our lives.

I want to thank all of the parliamentarians that have met with us and sought to learn more about the Treaty process that we’re putting together.

I urge anyone who has any reservations to reach out. Our door is open.

The journey to Treaty might not always be easy – it might push some beyond their comfort zones, but it’s a journey we need to take and it’s a journey best taken together.

So please, walk with us.

Thank you.

Marcus Stewart

Additional information

A copy of the full Treaty Authority Agreement is here.

An information sheet about the Treaty Authority is here.

The Treaty Authority and Other Treaty Elements Bill 2022 can be read here.


Previously at Croakey

From 2017: Victorian Treaty an opportunity to heal and overcome intergenerational trauma, by Jill Gallagher

 

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