HOPE is what Ballarat's Sissy Austin wants this next step in a treaty process to keep alive: hope cultural rights and values would be upheld; hope for improved protection of country.
Voting opened on Monday morning for representatives to the First Peoples' Assembly, which will help determine the framework for a treaty, bringing agreements with the government even closer in Victoria. The voting process will last five weeks in a bid to encourage more indigenous voters to enroll. More than 2000 of 30,000 eligible Victorian Aboriginals, aged 16-plus, had signed-up for the non-compulsory vote when polling opened.
WHAT IS TREATY ALL ABOUT? SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE
The assembly will be made up of 33 representatives from five geographical voting areas, including south-west Victoria taking in Geelong, Ballarat and Warrnambool. Twelve seats have been allocated to formally-recognised traditional owner groups. Remaining 21 seats will include two from the south-west.
Ms Austin, a Gunditjmara woman, said a lot of people were not happy with the regional boundaries and would instead prefer a clan-based approach. Her goal was to remain focused on the grassroots and striving for transparency, particularly after a lack of confidence in the treaty process so far.
Gunditjmara woman Charmaine Clarke, who grew up in Ballarat among the stolen generation, is among the 14 south-west candidates.
Both women met with more than a hundred potential voters in a panel lunch with other candidates at Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative late last week.
Candidate Michael "Mookeye" Bell, from Heywood, said a mini-road show to meet aboriginal people across the region was a great way to better understand key issues facing those they might represent.
Most people are still trying to work out what it's all aboutMichael "Mookeye" Bell, south-west candidate
"You know whoever is going gets to be elected should have the same understanding after meeting with people," Mr Bell said. "It's great to see so much interest in the treaty process in Ballarat. It is a new process. Most people are still trying to work out what it's all about."
Australia is one of the only Commonwealth nations without a treaty with its First Peoples.
Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher said to get this process right, would help set right the wrongs committed on aboriginal communities in the past.
"This is groundbreaking. This is something that your great-, great-grandchildren are going to talk about. This is something if we are successful will right those wrongs that were committed on our communities in the past," Ms Gallagher said.
"We cannot underestimate that power the assembly will give to that negotiating. For the first time, we have an elected voice in Victoria."
CLICK ON THE IMAGE BELOW TO READ CHARMAINE CLARKE'S STORY FOR PUTTING HER HAND UP
"[Treaty] can tackle that divide directly by first acknowledging not just our shared history and geography but our shared desires to see development, growth and change in the region."
WHAT IS TREATY?
- An agreement between states, nations or governments, including between indigenous people and governments.
- Can be used in many areas including recognition of historic sovereignty, sacred sites, place names, historic wrongs, apologies and how relationships should evolve, possible self-government and land rights and management.
TREATY IN AUSTRALIA
The June 1988 Barunga Statement called for Aboriginal self-management, a national system of land rights, compensation for loss of lands, respect for Aboriginal identity, an end to discrimination and the granting of full civil, economic, social and cultural rights.
Labor prime minister Bob Hawke wanted to conclude a treaty by 1990. It has not happened.
A national Native Title Act 1993 and several state-based agreements cover some of the same ground as a treaty.
WHICH OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE A TREATY?
New Zealand - British representatives signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chiefs in 1840. The New Zealand government has committed to settling historic and contemporary claims about the breach of treaty principles.
Canada - treaties were signed up to 1920. Since the 1970s, federal and provincial governments have been making land agreements with First Nations without historic treaties.
United States - agreements were signed until 1871. The federal government continues to make "nation-to-nation" agreements with recognised tribes.
WHERE IS AUSTRALIA UP TO WITH THE TREATY?
Victoria - Five-week elections are about to begin for Indigenous people to elect representatives for the First Peoples' Assembly. The assembly will become the voice of Indigenous people during the next phase of treaty negotiations with the state government.
Northern Territory - Mick Dodson became NT treaty commissioner in March and will lead treaty negotiations between Aboriginal people and the territory government.
Other Australian states and territories are also considering tabling treaty legislation.
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