It was with some horror a few days ago I read that the Victorian Government had begun initial consultations around the idea of a treaty with the Aboriginal inhabitants of that state.
Of course the media trumpeted it as some new high water mark for race relations in Australia and a triumph of fairness and humanity.
“Noooooo” I screamed from my laptop keyboard, “be very, very careful, they’ll divide you Koorie mob and drive through a watered down, weak as piss treaty and you mob will be essentially signing all your rights away!”
In the article it said that in researching a possible treaty, the Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Natalie Hutchins, said she “will look at treaty examples in other Commonwealth countries.”
So, in other words, she will be looking at discredited 19th century documents where basically the local First Nations peoples were deceived and bludgeoned into signing their rights and land away as being the new basis for understanding between Victoria and the Koorie nations.
Victorian Koories must hesitate. You see, a treaty, or the absence of one at least, is the most powerful political tool Aboriginal people have.
Think of it this way… the British turned up in 1788 and said the following:
“We own this island and you blackfellas are all British subjects…”
The rightful response: “We don’t agree. Show us where we agreed to that?”
“We will set up a system of laws and governance which will be for both our peoples’ mutual benefit and protection”
We don’t agree. Show us where we agreed to that?
“We will acquire and ‘improve’ land under this new system because this is a modern and productive way of doing things. You will benefit from our methods”
We don’t agree. Show us where we agreed to that?
“We will civilise you by forcing you into missions and reserves, stealing your children and assimilating them by denying their identity and culture.”
But we never agreed. Show us where we agreed to that?
But now, after everything those Koories have been through over the years, having fought to even survive, they finally come to them and say “Let’s talk nicely about this over a cup of tea and come to an agreement to legitimise our government and rubber stamp the system we have here with your seeming approval.”
I’m sorry, fuck off. The response should be something like “we’re not rubber stamping genocide without dragging you lot through the full ordeal of owning up to every injustice, written on memorials all over your state to the massacres and humiliations we endured. We want a day of mourning as a public holiday, NAIDOC day as a public holiday. Our own fully funded memorials and cultural centres at significant sites. Our own fully funded schools and hospitals. Our own fully funded University. We want our own prison to deal with our people, our way, culturally. We want affordable housing for our mob, on and off country. Offensive placenames changed. Our own placename boards in our colours in our languages. Massive funding to restore our languages for the use of us and our kids. And massive compensation, annually in perpetuity, including lots of land, for all that has been done to us in your name. And we’ll never cede any land, it’s always ours. But we’ll provide perpetual leasehold for your citizens, which is more than generous or more than your state deserves.
Why not? The power of the treaty is that Aboriginal people decide what they rightly deserve, not a court or government committee. Finally they can seek justice on their terms! And what’s the downside… the state says no, so no treaty. That’s their loss, not Aboriginal people’s. At least Aboriginal voices get heard. And the state doesn’t get its treaty.
Any treaty should demand extremely strong political rights. Basically, sovereignty. Self-determination. Starting with the ability to identify, fairly and equitably, Aboriginal political and community representatives in Aboriginal political and community representative bodies.
This is the greatest problem in Aboriginal politics to date. Not of Aboriginal people’s own making. It is the core problem with the framing and signing of any treaty… namely, which Aboriginal people sign the treaty? If we aren’t able to choose our own representatives, and I mean every single Aboriginal person in this country must have a direct say, then the piece of paper the treaty is written on will not mean a damn thing. Well, maybe as much as Captain Cook’s proclamation of “possession” of the continent in August 1770. Yeah, there’s a “consensus” document if ever I saw one. Not.
Unfortunately, present Australian governments don’t want true representative Aboriginal voices to be heard…. That’s why they abolish Indigenous representative bodies (after they have first set them up on their terms) and handpick blackfellas who they think will be closest to representing what they want. Witness Warren Mundine and Noel Pearson. I know they are fiercely proud Aboriginal men but who do they represent? Who do they speak for? Whose mob? All they represent is their own ideas. Maybe some of those are worthwhile but there’s no way if anyone like that signed any treaty they would be representing me, my needs or my voice.
No, Aboriginal people need what mainstream people in Australia get. A timely, well resourced political process. The makeup of which we will decide on ourselves. If it were to happen I believe there should be a lot more ‘consensus’ politics – which is cultural – than winner-take-all majority-rules European-style politics.
That’s just the start… and it will take a long time.
Once Aboriginal people have their own political processes in place (funded by the state… it’s the least they can do to transition Koories back to the power they’ve so cruelly denied for the past 200 odd years) then, and only then, can Aboriginal people start to think about what the demands would be for a treaty.
So, the proposed treaty negotiations in Victoria? Nice idea, but there’s some serious preconditions to sort out first.