Dear Premier Andrews,
Yet, we are the only Commonwealth nation in the world that does not have a treaty with its First Peoples. It‘s time for the progressive state of Victoria to lead the way in addressing this great injustice.
While we congratulate the Victorian Government on committing to a process of developing Treaties; your consultation process has not reflected true self-determination or honoured the ancient governance structures of Aboriginal society. Clans and their Elders, who are a crucial part of Aboriginal law, have been sidelined in this process in favour of government appointed officials.
We recognise that in response to Elders and the Greens’ campaign you have now committed to establish an Elders Council to oversee and provide cultural accountability to the treaty process. In addition, the Parliament has now passed legislation to set up an Aboriginal Representative Body that will work with the Government to establish the treaty negotiating framework.
We believe that this Body and the Elders Council must be selected in a culturally appropriate way. We call on you to commit to them being made up of self-determined representatives of the Clans and First Nations.
Premier, you must also ensure that the true history of this country is heard. If we continue to pay only token recognition to the rich ancestry and cultural history of this land, and if we refuse to own up to the atrocities committed against its First Peoples, we cannot make any real progress towards an inclusive society for Victorians.
It is time to negotiate Clan-based Treaties with Victoria’s First Peoples. At this early stage in the process, we call on the Victorian Government to recognise the sovereignty of the Clans as an act of good faith and a symbol of your commitment to genuine and just process. Its time we all walk, talk and live Treaty.
What is a Treaty?
A Treaty is a negotiated agreement, often a peace agreement, between sovereign peoples. A Clan-based Treaty approach starts from the understanding that sovereignty was never ceded to the colonial invaders and that sovereignty lies with the Clans. Therefore the State of Victoria should negotiate Treaties with each Clan. Some Clans choose to organise as a First Nation language group and thus some treaties may be negotiated with a First Nation.
The Greens support community voices calling for the Clans and First Nations to lead negotiations around what they want from a Treaty, including establishing the treaty negotiating framework.
What is a Clan?
Clans are at the heart of First Peoples law and governance, community and their relationship to their land.
Clans are extended family groups that have lived for tens of thousands of years in this ancient country. Each has traditional language, Ancestors and Descendents, lands, lore, belief systems and customs. There were once over 300 Clans in Victoria. However, due to colonisation, massacres, disease, dispossession and families being torn apart, today only around 100 Clans remain.
A person’s position in their Clan establishes their relationship to others and to the universe, prescribing their responsibilities towards other people, the land and natural resources.
What is Sovereignty
Sovereignty is about rights to govern over your lands and people. It provides freedom of cultural expression and rights to self-determine your collective future. In terms of a treaty negotiation, what form the expression of sovereignty takes in the agreement is up to each clan to determine and negotiate with the State of Victoria.
Why do we need clan-based treaties?
- Justice and human rights
For too long, Aboriginal people in Victoria have long been talked about rather than spoken with and listened to. It is not fair or just to continue to pass legislation that concerns them without giving them a seat at the table to discuss and shape it.
Australia is the only commonwealth country without a treaty agreement with its First Peoples. These Clans have never ceded sovereignty over this land. When white man came they fought against the foreign invaders who had the gall to declare this land ‘terra nullius’ (land that belongs to no-one) and claim it for themselves. For nearly two hundred years the injustice of stolen land and the horror of the invasion have haunted the First Peoples without any proper attempt to set it right.
The surviving Clans require justice for the dispossession of their land and injustices against their people. Clan-based Treaties are the best way to move forward, protect cultural integrity, to create peace, to heal and to agree on reparations.
We cannot stand idly by whilst the First Peoples of Victoria are not afforded their most basic human rights. It is inhumane for us to continue this way.
The true history of this country must be told. This land was not peacefully colonised – it was stolen. We have in this country, and in Victoria, the oldest surviving ancient culture in the world. To deny them their history is to deny their existence. The preciousness of preserving an ancient culture in a world that is so rapidly evolving cannot be underestimated.
This is fundamentally about doing the right thing. Victoria, let’s come together and lead the way for the rest of the country to do the same.
A Treaty implies peaceful and respectful coexistence amongst peoples. Our First Peoples deserve peaceful coexistence with all other Victorians.
What’s the solution?
The Victorian Greens have developed principles for Treaty in conjunction with Clans and Elders based on the following:
Start with the Clans
Clan-based Treaties protect cultural integrity as Clans are the best representatives to ensure that Treaties deliver real benefits for the grassroots community.
Respect law and culture
Treaty agreements must be in accordance with the law and culture of both parties to the agreements. They must not be developed solely on the Government’s terms.
Fund Clans to participate
In order to achieve fair and just Treaty agreements, the Government has a responsibility to fully fund Clans so that they can participate on equal footing in negotiations.
Repair cultural connections
Sadly, many First Peoples have lost all or full knowledge of their Clans, culture, language and country due to colonisation.
Providing funding for cultural identity mapping is a critical step in supporting Clans to properly negotiate substantive Treaties.
Adhere to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Article 18 states: “Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.”
Establish an Elders Council
Elders are held in high regard by First Peoples and are a key part of their law system. The February 2016 Self Determination forum, organised by the Victorian Government, and many subsequent community forums have decided unanimously that an Elders Council must be established as part of any Treaty process.
Tell the truth
Australian First Peoples are the oldest surviving ancient culture in the world but a full account of the true history of Australia is yet to be told. In order for the wider Victorian community to fully understand the need for Treaties and for the Treaty process to achieve justice and true healing and harmony between the peoples now living on this land, there must be an opportunity for the stories and true histories to be revealed.
Ensure representatives are self-determined
Laws have been passed to establish an Aboriginal Representative Body to negotiate the Treaty framework. Representatives of this body must be self-determined by the Clans and First Nations, and selected in a culturally appropriate way. The Government is pushing for elections, which are not Aboriginal culture, and have failed in the past to deliver proper process and representation.
Ensure that representatives are elected fairly
If elections are held for the Aboriginal Representative Body, they must be free from the influences of money, political power and corporations. Where every Aboriginal Victorian, regardless of wealth or affiliation with a political party can stand on an equal footing with other candidates and be elected by their communities or Clans.
Can you help the Clans?
Clan Elders from all across Victoria need financial support to come together and claim their rightful seat at the Treaty negotiations table. They know their people best, and you can help!