Aboriginal communities across Victoria have made their expectations clear about how Australia’s first formal truth-telling process should be conducted.
Today the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria (the Assembly) will hand over the heavy responsibility of truth-telling to the historic Yoo-rrook Justice Commission with the presentation of community conditions, requests and hopes for how the process will be conducted.
The Assembly, the democratically elected voice for First Peoples in Victoria tasked with establishing the framework for future Treaty negotiations with the Statement Government, has worked extensively with Aboriginal communities, organisations and individuals across Victoria, to produce its detailed Tyerri Yoo-rrook (meaning Seed of Truth in Wemba Wemba/ Wamba Wamba) report.
Community respectfully but firmly requests that the report’s findings and recommendations guide the truth-telling work of the newly established Yoo-rrook Justice Commission – an authority that will have the statutory powers of a royal commission to investigate the injustices experienced by First Peoples since colonisation. The work of the Commission will run parallel to Victoria’s Treaty process and is seen as a vitally important first step for healing and to ensure Treaty negotiations can take place with a clear understanding of the historical and contemporary context.
To mark the solemn and symbolic handing-over of truth-telling responsibility from the Assembly to the Commission, the Tyerri Yoo-rrook report will be launched with an online video event featuring talks from Elders, Assembly and Commission representatives and cultural acknowledgement.
Bangerang and Wiradjuri Elder and Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, Geraldine Atkinson said that what the Assembly was handing over to the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission was more than just a report, it was a powerful cultural and symbolic gesture.
“With this report, we also hand over an enormous responsibility, on behalf of all First Peoples in Victoria, their ancestors, and future generations. The weight of our history is sitting on our shoulders, and we have an obligation to do this process justice. Each one of our communities has been carrying their heavy truths for too long and they deserve to be heard, acknowledged and for that to lead to systemic reforms.”
Fellow Co-Chair of the Assembly and proud Nira Illim Bulluk man of the Taungurung nation Marcus Stewart said the Tyerri Yoo-rrook report captured community voices on truth-telling, which were loud and clear.
“There’s widespread support for a truth and justice process in our communities. However, communities have made clear that this process must be different from past royal commissions: it must hold governments to account; truth-telling must be done in a culturally safe way that avoids further trauma; it must allow First Peoples to be heard on our own terms; and it must lead to fundamental change,” said Mr Stewart.
The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission was formally established in May 2021, after the Assembly successfully negotiated with the State Government last year for a truth and justice process to be conducted as a critical component of the journey to Treaty. The Commission will operate independently of both government and the Assembly and is being led by five Commissioners, including Wergaia/Wamba Wamba Elder, Professor Eleanor Bourke, as Chair.
Co-Convener of the Assembly’s Truth-telling Committee and member for the South East region Troy McDonald said First Peoples have been calling for a truth-telling process for generations.
“This work builds on decades of activism. A Treaty is about moving forward with a shared future for all Victorians, but to do that, historic and ongoing injustices must be formally acknowledged and addressed. We are the original storytellers and it’s time we told our whole story,” he said.
Truth and justice commissions have taken place across various international jurisdictions following conflicts or political transition, such as in South Africa or Timor Leste. More recently Canada, Finland and Sweden have created Commissions to look at First Nations’ experiences of forced assimilation.
The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will be tasked with examining the full range of injustices experienced by First Peoples, which they have endured and survived. This includes massacres, Stolen Generations, slavery, intergenerational trauma, cultural loss, land theft, sexual exploitation, and all forms of historic and current harms. These histories will become part of the state’s official records, and the Commission will be tasked with recommending actions that pave the way to widespread reforms.
Fellow Co-Convener of the Truth-telling Committee, and member for the North West region, Melissa Jones, said the work of the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will unite all Victorians on our shared pathway to Treaty.
“A truth-telling process reaches into the past, but it does that in order to right past wrongs so we can heal and move toward our shared future in the state of Victoria. Truth-telling will elevate the voices of First Peoples in Victoria and help us deliver the structural reforms needed to establish a self-determining future for our people,” she said.
The full Tyerri Yoo-rrok report can be read below. The event video will be available on our website on Tuesday 7 September. More details here.
For interviews of more information, contact:
Megan Giles via firstname.lastname@example.org or 0459 959 356