Taungurung people unfurled their flag for the first time in Broadford in May. It is the first sovereign flag created by a traditional owner group in Victoria.

By Colin MacGillivray

TAUNGURUNG Land and Waters Council has issued a statement rejecting a proposal it says would ‘undermine and dismantle’ Victoria’s historic treaty process.

Taungurung leaders called on the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria – an Aboriginal representative group set up to establish a treaty process with the State Government – to ignore calls for an alternative 38 nations proposal.

The Treaty is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the unique status, rights, cultures and histories of Aboriginal Victorians. It will address wrongs and redefine relationships between the State Government, Aboriginal Victorians and non-Aboriginal Victorians.

The 38 nations proposal seeks to reform the proposed model for representation in the discussion of a treaty.

The current model reserves seats for each of Victoria’s 11 Registered Aboriginal Parties, RAPs, with no other groups guaranteed representation.

Taungurung’s statement said a move towards the alternative 38 nations model would undermine years of hard work by Victorian traditional owner groups.

“The Taungurung people are deeply concerned that this proposal has been made, especially by those we should stand in solidarity with – other Victorian traditional owners,” the statement said.

“We urge the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria not to do anything that would undermine hard-fought and historically significant gains as they design the path towards treaty in Victoria.

“Treaty-making is the business of nations. The experience of first peoples worldwide is that it is nations that negotiate treaties with dominant colonising societies. It must be no different in Victoria, where first nation groups can be indented for every inch of land.

“We believe that the 38 nations model would weaken the historic strides Taungurung and other traditional owners have made and would be a detriment to traditional owners, the treaty-making process, and the future of Victoria.”

Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations, FVTOC, chief executive Paul Paton said the group shared Taungurung’s concerns.

He said the 38 nations proposal was driven by a dissatisfied minority of traditional owners, and did not reflect the reality of modern Aboriginal nations.

“Their view is that the 38 language groups [across Victoria] translates into 38 individual nations. That doesn’t reflect the way that society groups and families have established themselves as nations, as groups and as entities,” he said.

Mr Paton said FVTOC were concerned the momentum built by the 38 nations proposal could derail treaty negotiations entirely.

“Those who are disaffected are seeking to undo all of that work,” he said.

“I wouldn’t argue that there are some groups that aren’t represented at the assembly, but [their representation] shouldn’t be at the expense of those hard-fought gains of elders who have worked for decades to be able to establish strong nations.

“We should look to … get them the same status as everyone else, and there is a concerted effort in the government with additional funds through the nation-building program and the Stronger Roots for Our Futures Program for first nations to do the work to get organised and established.

“That’s where the effort needs to go, not towards tearing down everything else because those groups haven’t been able to achieve recognition to date.”

Mr Paton said currently recognised traditional owner groups like Taungurung were best placed to form a body to negotiate a treaty with the government.

“They are community-controlled organisations, so they’re membership-based. The corporations are accountable to their members, so there are mechanisms in place to ensure that if corporations are not inclusive and accountable, they can be righted through proper systems and structures and legislation,” he said.

People can read Taungurung’s full statement at www.fvtoc.com.au/blog/tlawc38-nations.