“On the cusp of history” — Marcus Stewart

Oct 21, 2022

Once at primary school, I got told off for not wearing my uniform on class photo day. I was wearing my Yothu Yindi t-shirt that said “Treaty Now” on it.

I loved that song and still do.

“Well I heard it on the radio. And I saw it on the television”

For many Australians it was their introduction to the idea of Treaty – an agreement between Aboriginal people and the government that would recognise our sovereignty and uphold our rights and freedoms to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country. The song united all First Peoples in our collective struggle and the sense that something would change.

Young Marcus Stewart wearing a Yothu Yindi ‘Treaty Now’ tee

“Back in 1988, all those talking politicians”

This line is of course referring to when then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, said his government would get Treaty done. It was 200 years late, but the excitement that it was finally going to happen was palpable in our communities.

“Words are easy, words are cheap. Much cheaper than our priceless land. And promises can disappear. Just like writing in the sand.”

Oof. Right in the feels, because our mob know that feeling all too well.

The song became a rallying cry for mob across the continent who had been let down by the failings of successive governments who didn’t understand our people, respect our culture and never prioritised our needs.

More than 30 years later, Australia is still waiting. But in Victoria, the rallying cry grew louder and was eventually answered.

“This land was never given up. This land was never bought and sold.”

Over the last few years, something extraordinary has quietly been underway. The democratic voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria – the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria – has been working with our communities to the put together the building blocks that will enable Treaty-making in Victoria.

“The planting of the Union Jack – never changed our law at all.”

With our communities as the architects and our elected Members as the builders, we’ve crafted new institutions – like the Treaty Authority which will be the independent umpire to help resolve disputes – that will be grounded in our Lore, law and cultural authority and sit completely outside of the government bureaucracy.

Today we are on the cusp of an exciting new chapter.

The agreement the elected Members of the Assembly have reached with the Victorian Government sets out a framework and principles that will empower Victorian Traditional Owners to negotiate Treaties with government. Treaties that reflect their priorities and aspirations.

It will also create a pathway for the Assembly, following our own elections next year, to negotiate a state-wide Treaty to deliver structural change in this state. A Treaty that will ensure our culture is respected and that our people have a powerful voice and are the key decision-makers when it comes to matters that affect our lives.

Treaty is finally within our reach.

The agreement will see the creation of Self Determination Fund that all our Traditional Owner groups will be able to access to help get themselves ready and able to enter negotiations on a more level playing field. The fund – managed by First Peoples for First Peoples – will also help communities generate wealth and prosperity for generations to come. It’s a game changer.

“Now two rivers run their course – separated for so long.”

Treaty is our chance to deliver bold structural change that will improve the lives of our people. But it will also redefine how everyone in Victoria sees themselves and understands their connection to this place.

The opportunity is here for this generation to reset the relationship and make sure the oldest living culture in the world is properly recognised, respected and celebrated in Victoria for years to come.

“I’m dreaming of a brighter day. When the waters will be one.”

Since time immemorial our people have cared for Country. We have a unique connection with the land, our knowledge runs deep, and we have much wisdom to share with everyone who now calls Victoria home. All we ask in return is the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country.

“Treaty Yeah, Treaty Now!”

Marcus Stewart is a proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation and Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

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