A new report calls for stronger cultural heritage protection that prioritises the self-determination of Victorian Traditional Owners.

The report, Taking Control of our Heritage, was released by Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council on Monday and recommends changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (VIC).

The report provides 24 recommendations that were co-designed across 18-months by both various Victorian Traditional Owners and community members.

The Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations support the report and calls on the Victorian Government to adopt the recommendations.

The Taking Control of our Heritage report represents a huge step towards greater protections for Victorian Traditional Owners and we are eagerly looking forward to seeing how it will shape the future of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage across the State,” Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations CEO Paul Paton said.

The recommendations address three key themes, including furthering self-determination for Registered Aboriginal parties, increasing the autonomy of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, and recognising, protecting, and conserving Aboriginal Cultural Heritage.

“Our vision for Victoria is for our State’s Traditional Owner Groups to be afforded best-practice protections for their Cultural Heritage,” he said.

“There is enormous and calculated loss happening across Victoria through inappropriate development planning on Country.”

“By adopting these recommendations …the Victorian Government is committed to ensuring Victoria has the best legal protection for Traditional Owners Cultural Heritage and continues Victoria’s nation-leading work.”

Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations chairman Rodney Carter echoed Paton’s sentiments.

“For too long, Traditional Owners have had to watch the destruction of Cultural Heritage in Victoria because their capacity to stop harm is so limited,” he said.

Carter explained that the self-determination of Traditional Owner Cultural Heritage is “underpinned by the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples”.

Taking Control of our Cultural Heritage was prompted by the discussion paper release in June 2020.

Throughout the consultation process to develop the final report, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council heard that Traditional Owners had been traumatised by the destruction of Cultural Heritage in Victoria and that there was an overwhelming racist consideration that First Peoples could not responsibly undertake the functions of the Act.

Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, emphasised the importance of self-determination for grassroots people in cultural heritage decisions.

“Self-determination means putting grassroots First Nations people in the driver’s seat when it comes to making decisions about our community and our cultural heritage. Not government-appointed bureaucrats,” she said.

Senator Thorpe was one of many who are fighting to protect the DjabWurrung Embassy, a fight that she believes is an example of the need to “overhaul” the Native Title system.

“The DjabWurrung Embassy took matters into their own hands when the Martang Aboriginal Corporation sold us out to the Andrews government. The corporation is a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) and the report recommends we expand the legislative functions of the RAP,” she said.

“What’s the point if they’re not interested in protecting sacred women’s country?”

“The Native Title system needs a complete overhaul because it prioritises corporations over people. We need the principles of free, prior and informed consent outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to be central in our legislation.”

With the report now sitting in the hands of the Victorian Government, Paton hopes they will implement the recommendations that “can help preserve out Cultural Heritage for future generations”.

“Our cultural heritage is also under significant threat every day and whilst it’s great that Victoria is a national leader in Cultural Heritage Protection, it would be even better if we could say we are now world-best in the way Traditional Owners can undertake their obligations and responsibilities to care for Country, preserve Cultural Heritage and maintain connections to ancestors,” he said.

“After all, isn’t that what we are aiming for with self-determination, truth and justice and treaty?”

To read the report or find out more, visit: https://www.fvtoc.com.au/

By Rachael Knowles