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Country is the essence of who we are

Ngarra Murray -

It’s sometimes difficult to put into words for those who are not First Peoples what Country means to First Peoples.

Everyone who calls Victoria home might live on the land, but as First Peoples we see and feel land as an extension of ourselves and us an extension of the land. We are the land.

Country is the essence of who we are. It’s in our blood and our blood is in Country.

Our relationship with our lands, skies and waters – and specifically the injustices that colonisation brought to our connection with them, is the focus of the current hearings of the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s truth-telling process.

I had the great privilege and responsibility of presenting at Yoorrook this week. I was there in a combination of roles – I shared my stories as a First Nations woman and someone with a deep connection to my lands and communities. But along with Rueben Berg, I was also there as Co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

I know many in our communities have faced incredible injustice in their lives and many carry the weight of intergenerational and collective trauma. I hope my truth-telling and answers were able to play a small role in contributing to the healing process.

If we want to create a better future together as equals, modern Victoria must be willing to reckon with the past. Sometimes to move forward, we have to look back.

The dispossession and oppression of our people may have occurred in previous generations, but we are still living with the consequences, we are still overcoming the disadvantage and injustice that invasion caused.

The negative effects have rippled down the years and compounded the unfairness. Today, we’re faced with a divide between those whose wealth was stolen and those who consolidated and passed down that stolen wealth.

This is what we need to address. This is why we need to negotiate a better, fairer deal for our people through Treaty. And this is exactly what the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is getting on with.

We want Aboriginal communities to have the power and tools to develop and deliver practical solutions at a local level. That’s why the negotiation framework we’ve agreed to with the Victorian Government allows the various Traditional Owners across the state to negotiate Treaties that reflect the priorities and aspirations in their areas.

In addition to Traditional Owner Treaties, the Assembly – as the democratically elected body representing First Peoples in and from Victoria – will negotiate a statewide Treaty with the Government.

We’re still gathering ideas and feedback from our communities, but we now have key concepts we’ll likely take into the first round of Treaty negotiations later this year.

We’ll be looking to agree on a process and timetable for transferring decision-making powers about Aboriginal matters from the Government to the Assembly.

We’ll want to expand the Assembly’s roles and responsibilities, so that in addition to the new decision-making powers we’d be seeking, it could also provide advice to government on a range of issues that affect First Peoples, and ensure accountability for promises made and standards set.

We will seek to find ways to ensure First Peoples’ cultures and languages are recognised and respected, and can be shared and celebrated by everyone. For example, you can expect to hear a lot more about dual naming, because we want all kids across the state growing up with a deeper understanding of the oldest living culture and through language have a way to connect with the 60,000+ years history about the place they call home.

And of course, we’ll be looking at how key recommendations from the Yoorrook Justice Commission’s truth-telling process should be implemented.

Any ideas we put on the table will be subject to negotiation, but this agenda is what elected Assembly Members have distilled from thousands of conversations and community engagement events across Victoria for over seven years. It gives a clear sense of what we’re looking for.

This week, Premier Jacinta Allan addresses Yoorrook. We hope that the Victorian public will see her government’s commitment to and appetite for tackling the big picture reforms required to right the wrongs of the past and equip Aboriginal communities with the power and tools to provide practical solutions at the local level.

As Yoorrook has been hearing, when it comes to Aboriginal communities, cultures and lands, the experts are of course Aboriginal people. The more this fact is respected and embraced, the more our communities will thrive.

It’s when we can truly come together as equals, when the systems of dispossession and oppression have definitively been discarded, that we can all get on with creating a better future for everyone who calls Victoria home.

Ngarra Murray is a proud Wamba Wamba, Yorta Yorta, Dhudhuroa and Dja Dja Wurrung woman, and Co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria.

This piece was first published on the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria website.



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