Reflecting on the anniversary of the Aboriginal Protection Act — Marcus Stewart

Nov 11, 2022

At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we will remember them.

These are words that nearly every Australian would have heard at some point. They are repeated to us every Remembrance Day, when we remember those who lost their lives at war.

But what many may not know, is that November 11 also marks a cruel anniversary for the Aboriginal community in Victoria. It’s the day the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 was introduced to ‘protect and manage’ us.

This insidious law gave authorities control over many aspects of our lives – including where we could live and work, who we could marry, how we could travel on our own Country and who we could socialise with.

And that was just the beginning.

The Act laid the foundation for many more oppressive policies that dehumanised and ultimately were aimed at eradicating Aboriginal people.

At the core of such laws and practices that followed – such as the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and families, giving rise to the Stolen Generations – was a belief that the authorities “knew best”.

Unfortunately, it’s a philosophy that is still too visible in policy and law-making today.

Whether it’s the record rates at which authorities lock up our people, tear our families apart, or how politicians are still willing to consign 10 year old children to the quick sand of the criminal justice system – a common factor in all these policy failures is that the rules have been made for us, never by us. Enforced from above by people who don’t respect or understand us or our culture.

It’s time to change this approach. It’s time for Treaty.

We can’t undo the past, but we can learn from it.

When we acknowledge people who died at war, in a sense we are acknowledging the horrors of our past – and hoping that it will never be repeated.

We need to do the same for the horrors that occurred right here in Victoria and across Australia, so we can tell our truth and get on with the work to create a better future together as equals.

With Treaty, we can do more than just hope for the best. We can build the mechanisms to hold governments accountable, to keep them to their promises. We can use it to negotiate a better deal and secure a more level playing field for our people.

Treaty is our opportunity to reclaim the self-determination that was taken from us – to ensure that Aboriginal people always have the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our land.

This is something that Aboriginal people have been asking for a long time – and, here in Victoria, it is finally within reach.

Last month a historic agreement was reached between First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the State Government on the framework and rule book for Treaty-making in Victoria.

The stage is now set for official Treaty negotiations in Victoria to commence as early as next year!

Traditional Owners will be able to negotiate Treaties in their areas, while a state-wide Treaty will be negotiated by the Assembly following our Assembly elections to enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Victoria to choose who will represent them during negotiations. So if you are eligible – please enrol with us to have your say.

It’s an exciting time in our history. We’ve survived the loss and suffering and our collective courage and resilience has delivered us here to this point. As a community, the public in Victoria are ready to have the hard conversations needed to right the wrongs of the past so we can move on together.

The shared journey to Treaty will help build respect and understanding of the oldest living culture in the world and foster the connections that can bring us all closer together.

Through Treaty, we will find our peace.

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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