People and Places
Treaty. Yes! By Liz Rogers

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It’s 1991. The Indigenous mega-band Yothu Yindi mesmerises movers on the dance floor into an electronic trance with a serious slathering of digeridoo. “Treaty yeh, treaty now,” the Mushroom/Razor release goes. “I’m dreaming of a brighter day/When waters will be one.” 

This brilliant club classic brings much more than its dance-floor poetry in motion and ripper beats to the celebratory table. It delivers pre-emptive and poignant commentary on the Australian political landscape. “Treaty negotiations are still likely to be years away really,” says Dan Turnbull, who is co-chair of the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group with Auntie Eleanor Bourke and one of the directors of the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owners Corporation. “It’s important to do it right, not quickly, but at least the process has begun. 

“The (State) Government has openly supported the process of creating an Aboriginal Treaty Working Group which advises the Treaty Advancement Commission on Aboriginal people’s hopes and aspirations for treaty.  Made up from traditional owners and elected by Aboriginal people in Victoria, the Aboriginal Representative Body will play a big role. This is a cultural process. All Aboriginal people will be involved.”

For those of you who don’t know much about treaty, which Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher describes as “a hugely significant step for our state and for our people”, the Treaty Advancement Commission released a proposed model for the representative body last September. The proposed model included six voting regions, a dedicated voice for elders to ensure cultural integrity and the agreement that only traditional owners may be on the body. It also included the proposal that there will be 17 elected seats with 11 seats reserved for formally traditional owner groups. Jill continues. “It’s so important we get it right. Aboriginal people have driven this right from the start. Thousands of people have been involved. The election in 2019 will set up an Aboriginal Representative Body. This is historic. It’s 200 years overdue, but things are finally being put right.”

Dan explains further. “Non-Indigenous Australians are perhaps a bit scared to recognise Aboriginal people as sovereign entities. If we create a state-wide treaty or group of smaller treaties, they may be concerned it could impact on their everyday lives. The Government has backed the treaty process, which was federally recognised years ago, and we are finally on the way to working together. It’s not about blame, but about the recognition that Aboriginal people did and do own the land. The results won’t be quick. It could take years, but we have to start somewhere.” 

In the words of Yothu Yindi once again: “This land was never given up/This land was never bought and sold/The planting of the Union Jack/Never changed our law at all.” If you’d like to know more about the treaty process, get in touch with Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Dan Turnbull in Frankston on 9770 1273 or contact the Treaty Advancement Commission on 1800 873 289.

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