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Truth-telling commission hears of a lack of funding for language services in Victoria

Dechlan Brennan -

A lack of government support for Indigenous language survival represented the continuation of cultural oppression and linguicide, the Yoorrook Justice Commission has heard.

The truth-telling hearings, which opened on Gunditjmara Miring Country on Monday, are examining land, sky and water injustices that have taken place during and since the initial colonisation of Victoria.

On Thursday, Aunty Vicki Couzens, chair of the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, said federal support for the language centre - which she said operated out of four "not fit for purpose" rooms in Docklands - had not changed in ten years, whilst support from the state government was non-existent.

"The government can send a billion dollars to Israel, and they can spend $4.5 billion on nuclear submarines ... and they cannot find even the moment to go to a budget bid to provide support for our languages," the Gunditjmara woman told the commission.

"We do not have a formalised or respectful relationship with the state government."

Dr Couzens said she knew "the mainstream love to consume our culture…to put us in museums and view us," but questioned some of the government's moves to rename things with First Nations names without consulting the owners of the land.

"We don't have a connection to the country…we are from, and we are, the country," she said.

Dr Couzens said the lack of funding meant boxes of material lay dormant in the offices; unable to be analysed, and unable to help the community.

Asked by Commissioner Sue-Anne Hunter if she believed language removal was genocide, and if she believed this was still happening due to the lack of funding, Dr Couzens replied: "Absolutely…well linguicide".

She said one of the first acts of genocide was the removal of language.

"It's a continuation of 'linguicide' and genocide," she said.

"It's very much one of the first strategies in genocide, stop people talking their language."

The hearing also heard from Gunditjmara woman and Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) chief executive Aunty Jill Gallagher, who spoke of the importance of Indigenous connection and rights to crown land for a connection to culture and Country.

"We need places to heal and connect, safe places," she said.

"Owning land and having access to land, it really is that ongoing sustainable approach to self-determination ... at a local level."

Dr Gallagher, who has been vocal in the community about Treaty, better outcomes for First Nations people and Closing the Gap, said the land hearings were particularly significant, "because the many health and wellbeing disparities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people suffer today started with the brazen and blatant theft of the resources and lands, they had meticulously cared for over thousands of years".

She said Traditional Owner groups must be better funded and resourced to care for Country in a proper and true partnership with the Victorian, and other state, Governments.

"My Mum and many, many others have had to live with the pain of having their children taken from them, the hopelessness of being unable to put down their roots, the horror of being subjected to vile racism on a daily basis," Dr Gallagher said.

"We have ancient, and we also have contemporary Aboriginal people, with our culture and our past, the stories that we can tell and the gifts that we could give to all Victorians."

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