Treaty: What does it mean?
A treaty is an agreement made between two or more parties, often made with First Peoples to establish rights over their land. Historically, many First Peoples around the world have faced disempowerment through loss of control over and freedom within lands. Treaties have not always been empowering, but in recent years it has been recognised in nations such as Canada that treaties may allow the needs of First Peoples to be heard in government.
In Australia, the process of disempowerment began in the 18th century with the arrival of Europeans who famously declared this land Terra Nulius ("nobody's land"). What followed was centuries of oppression, dispossession of land, separation of families and prejudice against First peoples, which continues to this day. Australia has not seen a treaty since the Batman treaty, which is widely acknowledged as a poor excuse.
Why is Treaty important?
It is important to acknowledge the connection that First Peoples have with the land, the knowledge they have had for thousands of years past, and First Peoples' right to continue practising their connection to land, in whatever form this may be, around the country. In order to fully respect First Peoples we must also support the conservation of language and culture.
First Peoples are more likely to be incarcerated repeatedly, making up around 28% of the national incarcerated population with the number rising in recent years. Additionally, many lack access to adequate healthcare, suffer chronic diseases and mental illnesses and fall behind in education. This is due to the continuation of oppression, forced intergenerational trauma and the lack of understanding around the importance of strong cultural identity.
As you will see, the First Nations of Victoria vary immensely, by country, language, beliefs and, currently, by their relations in modern politics, law and cultural practice. One treaty will not suit all. At the moment the federal government and Treaty Interim Working Group are consulting First Nations on a treaty model which is to be established in the coming years. With this model each Nation can focus on local cultural practices and forms of empowerment while facing social issues which afflict the area. Currently, each nation has a different relationship to local governments, and both can benefit from strong relationships and mutual understanding. A treaty model will empower those who do not yet have voice over actions which reflect the rich history or their own lives. For many, Treaty/ies will reaffirm the rights and significance of First Nations Peoples.
Part of the barrier for First Peoples establishing their basic rights in Australia is a public lack of eductaion, both about First Peoples and the Treaty process. The purpose of this campaign is to help more people understand the importance of Treaties and the complexity of getting it right.
-Treaty by Yothu Yindi (1991)
What characteristics should treaties and other similar long-term arrangements have? These are common factors found in successful Treaties:
o Based on free, prior and informed consent
o Negotiated between appropriate parties
o A binding long-term commitment
o A status outside the control of particular governments, supported by law
o Being properly resourced and monitored
o Having a capacity for review and extension through agreed processes
o Ensuring peoples' autonomy over decisions which affect them