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Self-determination in action as First Peoples' Assembly considers Traditional Owner reserved seat application

Dechlan Brennan -

The First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria are inviting interested parties to comment on an application for an additional reserved seat.

The Assembly is made up of both general members - who are elected during Assembly elections - and reserved seats - which are for representatives from Traditional Owner groups.

The application for an additional reserved seat by the Wamba Wemba Aboriginal Corporation in the north-west of Victoria is an open process, and would take the number of reserved seats in the Assembly to 11.

If the application is successful, it will be the first time the Assembly's approach to recognition is not constrained by traditional government processes.

Previously, the process for Traditional Owner groups had relied on a protracted government approach, which required the groups to gain formal recognition under state legislation, with Assembly Members determining the Assembly's own additional criteria for recognising Traditional Owner groups.

Self-determination - which is about empowering the Indigenous community to organise itself and choose its own representatives - is changing this and letting Indigenous people make decisions about who represents them.

In an outline of the application process, the Assembly said it wanted to "make sure everyone's voice is heard and that our cultural ways of doing business are front and centre".

"We're not going to be limited by colonial structures and concepts," they said.

Owner groups without formal recognition can apply directly to the Assembly for a reserved seat, provided they meet a series of criteria.

The decision to grant a new reserved seat is made by the entire Assembly, and considers evidence, available facts and information given by relevant parties.

No legislation would be required to add a new seat into the Assembly.

Whilst a reserved seat in the Assembly does not give a group any rights to negotiate a Treaty, and a seat granted using this process will be cancelled if another Traditional Owner Group is formally recognised under government legislation over the same area, National Indigenous Times understands the Assembly is keen to see the process of self-determination take place and the community to be made aware of the collaborative and transparent process.

Map of the proposed Reserved Seat for the Wamba Wemba Aboriginal Corporation (Image: First Peoples' Assembly)

The Wamba Wemba Aboriginal Corporation application covers an area of north-west Victoria with a boundary from North of Swan Hill, South-East along the Murray River to Koondrook, then West to Birchip, before heading North to Lake Tyrrell and back east to Swan Hill via Tyrrell Downs and Chillingollah.

Any interested party can comment on the application. This includes individuals, organisations and family groups.

Commenting is open until January 19, with further information on Reserved Seat Holders can be made via the First Peoples' website.

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