Self-determination is vital to improving Aboriginal health and wellbeing.
The full potential of Aboriginal peoples can best be realised through empowered communities making decisions about their own futures, helping determine all policy that affects them and delivering a range of programs and services.
As part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to self-determination, it has begun a treaty-making process with the Aboriginal community. As Jill Gallagher, the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner has said:
“For our mob to reach a treaty with the Victorian Government will be a significant achievement for us, and something we can all be proud of as Victorians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.”
VCOSS strongly supports the negotiation of a treaty.
Treaties are accepted worldwide as a means of reaching settlement between Indigenous peoples and those who have colonised their lands. They are formal agreements that recognise Aboriginal people were prior owners and occupiers of the land, and retain a right to self-government. Treaties have been reached in the United States and New Zealand and are being negotiated in Canada.
Jill Gallagher again:
“A treaty should deliver recognition of our unique position as this country’s first people, repatriation for past wrongs and injustices, improve our lives today and allow us to establish the foundations for a strong and bright future for our future generations. It will enable us to build and celebrate our cultural strength.”
Aboriginal Victoria’s Treaty Factsheet outlines a treaty can address any and all of the following purposes:
- Recognising past wrongs and making apology for those wrongs.
- Recognising Indigenous land rights and sovereignty. Recognising Indigenous self-government within a state.
- Exchanging land rights for financial and other benefits.
- Creating a new relationship or partnership for an ongoing dialogue.
It is essential community voices are heard in the negotiation and development of the treaty, and remain at the centre of the process. More than 7500 Aboriginal Victorians have already been consulted on the pathway to treaty discussions.
A representative body will be established to negotiate with the Government as an equal party in the treaty process, with Jill Gallagher appointed as Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner to drive the process forward and strengthen engagement with the Aboriginal community.
It is important that Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) receive adequate funding to support their communities’ ongoing engagement in self-determination and treaty discussions and to make sure the community voice is heard at the heart of the treaty-making process.
In the meantime, in addition to work already underway, including establishing the Victorian Aboriginal Economic Board and transferring nearly 1500 public housing properties to Aboriginal Housing Victoria, the Victorian Government can continue to strengthen self-determination by transferring guardianship of all Aboriginal children in out-of-home care to Aboriginal organisations, and strengthening organisations that support Aboriginal communities.
Non-Aboriginal organisations can support self-determination by not competing with Aboriginal organisations to deliver services to Aboriginal people and communities, and supporting ACCO-led partnerships.