The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria has announced an interim Elders’ Voice which will provide a “solid cultural base” for Treaty.

The democratically elected First Peoples Assembly is a voice for Aboriginal communities in Victoria to contribute to both statewide Treaty and local level Traditional Owner Treaties.

The interim Elders’ Voice will work to establish a permanent Elder Voice through statewide community consultations, with the permanent voice ensuring the Assembly’s work is grounded in respect for Elders and that the Victorian Treaty process reflects the priorities of Elders.

The interim Elders’ Voice has appointed respected Elders and Assembly Members Aunty Charmaine Clarke and Uncle Andrew Gardiner as Co-Chairs.

Aunty Charmaine is a proud Gunditjmara woman and Uncle Andrew is a proud Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung man.

“The strength of Aboriginal Elders, and their long fight for justice, has brought us to this point in our State’s history,” said Aunty Charmaine.

“We are grateful to receive our Elders’ direction on our historic path towards Treaty, and we will listen to the collective wisdom and knowledge they share to inform our journey.”

Both Aunty Charmaine and Uncle Andrew encourage Elders to take part in community consultations to shape the permanent Elders’ Voice.

“We need time to talk to our Elders, to take time [and] get them onside and comfortable with the process,” said Uncle Andrew.

“The consultation strategy needs to account for accessibility, not all Elders have a computer or an iPad or smartphone. We’re going to have to do some face-to-face consultations, with consideration to COVID lockdowns, and others we can do virtually.”

Uncle Andrew told NIT the vision for the Elders’ Voice, is to “restore a cultural process which has survived for thousands of years”.

“Elders are crucial in providing us with their knowledge, history, wisdom, and resilience,” he said.

 “When Elders talk, we listen. Their voices must be heard and respected.”

The consultation process will be underpinned by four pillars: respect, connectedness, knowledge base, and Lore of the land.

“We want get this work going, a lot of our Elders are getting on … the sooner we can get this done, it means the Elders who are participating can see the change that they’re making,” said Uncle Andrew.

“Elders still need the opportunity to be involved in the truth-telling process. In Victoria there are 22 registered massacre sites that have been identified through archaeological survey. There are probably more that aren’t historically recorded.  

“Our Elders would know that stuff, and we want to be able to share those stories and that knowledge. Sharing that knowledge, means that those histories can be a part of the Yoo-rrook Commission. Elders need to be involved to lead that process.”

Community consultations for the interim Elders’ Voice will begin in early August.

“The Assembly’s work, which is nation leading work, is going to be guided and grounded by that respect for Elders,” said Uncle Andrew.

“Queensland and the Northern Territory have put their feet forward around Treaty, they’re watching what we’re doing. They’re watching how we get it right, so when the time comes, they can get it right.”

Find more information about the interim Elders’ Voice here.

By Rachael Knowles