We are here. We always have been.
Our survival is living proof of our collective endurance, resilience and determination.
To be an Aboriginal woman at any point in these last 230 years has been to struggle. To know pain and live with fear. My mother had to move our family six times to protect us from being snatched by the authorities and consigned to the Stolen Generations.
To be an Aboriginal woman has been to continue the struggle, mostly against the odds, and insist that the wisdom of our ancestors be passed down. We’ve done so with a delicate but persistent whisper of hope that one day a better tomorrow will be within our reach.
I am a proud Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman.
My ancestors come from the north east part of this land that is now known as Victoria. Close to the banks of the Murray River, and even closer to the Goulburn river. Where it is often hot, and where sometimes it can be dry.
My people are called ‘the people of the tall trees’.
Today that whisper of hope is no longer a whisper. It’s a clear voice. It resonates from our Elders who refused to give up their freedom, their languages and their culture that has been practiced here for countless generations. People like my grandmother who participated in the Cummeragunja Walk-Off.
Treaty is the culmination of such struggles. The path ahead is still long, but today we reached a landmark and need to pause and celebrate it.
A historic agreement was reached this week between the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria and the Government on the framework and rule book for Treaty-making in Victoria.
I am beyond proud of the work our elected Members have done in the Assembly’s very first term. Guided by our communities at every step, we’ve crafted a framework that will empower all Traditional Owners to negotiate Treaties in their Country that reflect their hopes, needs and aspirations.
It will also see the Assembly, following our next elections, negotiate a state-wide Treaty that will ensure our people always have a powerful voice and meaningful decision-making power.
This framework and the Self Determination Fund are the final pieces of architecture the Assembly was tasked to create during its first term. With agreement reached, we can now bring our new institutions such as the Treaty Authority, the umpire that will oversee negotiations, to life.
The stage is set for official Treaty negotiations in Victoria to commence as early as next year.
Think of how long our people have been calling for this. And here we are. Treaty finally within reach!
The framework recognises our Lore, law and cultural authority. It will see the Government take a back seat as we get to do things our way. The framework is an inclusive one that invites all Traditional Owners to be part of the journey and do so at their own pace and in their own way.
It provides guidance from the Treaty Authority and support through the Self-Determination Fund which will ensure Traditional Owners can enter negotiations on a more level playing field. Going forward, the Fund will also help our communities generate wealth and prosperity.
Treaty will ensure that First Peoples always have a powerful voice and that we have the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect us.
When we do community meetings and yarns, people often ask me ‘Well, what will Treaty deliver?’ and I tell them “That’s up to you.” Treaty will be what we make of it.
For the first time since invasion, it will be up to us as First Peoples to determine what’s best for our communities, our culture and our Country.
When I think of my aspirations for Treaty, I think of my family.
I think of the trauma my family and I carry from living and sharing these stories, as well as the strength, wisdom and pride in our culture that they passed down to us and that I, in turn, am passing on to my grandchildren.
For me, Treaty is a way to honour my ancestors, address the past and ongoing injustices that many of our families face, and create a better future for generations to come.
All of our Traditional Owner groups are different and we will have different priorities, but we are connected by common threads, historical connections, and obligations to the land, our families, and our children’s children.
It is now up to all of us to self-determine what we want to make possible through Treaty.
The good news today isn’t limited to Aboriginal people. Treaty is a chance to reset the relationship between First Peoples and newer Australians. It’s a chance to build respect and understanding and find the connections that can bring us all closer together.
We love our culture and love caring for our Country and we want to share that and our wisdom with everyone. All that we ask in return, through Treaty, is that Aboriginal people have the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect our communities, our culture and our Country.
Treaty is finally within reach and I couldn’t be happier.
Aunty Geraldine Atkinson is a Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder and co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.
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