Truth has been a long time coming, Treaty must follow soon

May 26, 2022

We look back to the past so that we can move forward and find our way to a better future.

We look back, with the support and formality of this much welcome and needed truth-telling process, because we want to ensure our stories are heard and our healing can be guided.

We look back because we hope the overwhelming amount of evidence collected and formally presented might finally pierce the willful amnesia that the wider society and colonial system wraps itself in.

We look back so future generations of new Australians don’t have to be misguided by shallow and glorified tales of invasion and settlement, but instead can reckon with how things came to be and challenge themselves to do better.

We look back so our children can draw strength from our collective experiences and pass on our resilience.

We want to thank everyone who has or will engage with the Yoorrook Justice Commission and we want to pay our respects to your Elders past and present, and for you to know that we will do our absolute best to make sure the power of your stories help us find the path forwards towards Treaty here in Victoria.

Everyone should have the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect their lives. But the ability of our people to determine our own destiny was shattered by invasion and the racism and disadvantage that came with it. It has held us back ever since.

While our people were murdered, forced off our land and into reserves, our children stolen and our equality denied – others were able to consolidate the stolen wealth and hand it down. Therefore, in many ways the injustices and the gaps have compounded over the generations.

We, the First Peoples in Victoria, live in the shadow of colonisation. It follows us wherever we go within society, tarnishing all interactions we have with the systems and instruments of the State.

We didn’t go from being free nations living in perfect harmony with this ancient land to being one of the most imprisoned peoples on the planet because of some mysterious invisible force. It’s more than two centuries of structural racism and deliberate policies of genocide and assimilation that have put as at such a disadvantage.

Fortunately, our resilience knows no bounds. Our history may stretch back beyond memory and time, but we believe our future will stretch on even further. Always was, always will be.

Truth-telling isn’t about blame or guilt. It’s about building a shared understanding. It’s about finding the solutions to the problems that continue today. Making sure we have the foundations on which to build a better future together.

We are proud of our culture. We love it. We will defend it fiercely and assert our right to live and practice it, make sure it is passed on for countless more generations. But we want to make one thing very clear – we love our culture so much that we want to share it and celebrate it with anyone who loves these lands as much as we do.

Truth and Treaty may prove to be hard work, but we are certain it will bring us all closer together. We have these opportunities to build understanding and respect and to make sure everyone who calls Victoria home can feel connected to Country and each other.

There are many things we could do immediately to help this happen. Both of us have been heartened to see various communities, sporting clubs and cultural associations moving to embrace our culture and languages. For example, it would be great to see more formal recognition and use of dual naming for the places we all appreciate.

But of course, Treaty needs to be more than symbolism and cultural exchange.

While targeted, issue-specific, reform can cast discrete beams of light into our lives, only deep structural change can remove the shadow of Colonisation.

The tools we need to dismantle the colonial chains that still hold our people back, to heal the wounds of injustice and repair our collective power are within our reach. We know what we need – we need the freedom and power to make the decisions that affect us.

That’s what Treaty will deliver. Meaningful structural reform to ensure our people can make the decisions about our communities, our culture and our Country.

This Truth-telling process will uncover and share so many tales of heartbreak and detail the deliberate and methodical injustices inflicted on our people and we’ll leave it to others to share their personal stories.

Our role at the Assembly – as the democratic voice for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community on the journey to Treaty in Victoria – is to ensure the lessons are learnt and the solutions implemented through Treaty.

Without Treaty, this place will just remain the colony of Victoria. With Treaty, everyone has the chance to write a new chapter together.

— Aunty Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-Chairs

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria presented at the Yoorrook Justice Commission. Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder, Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, and proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung nation, Marcus Stewart, are the two elected co-chairs of First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.