The 2019 Koorie Youth Summit starts with some pointed questions about the state's Treaty process and winds up with a feeling of empowerment and hope.
By
Madeline Hayman-Reber, Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV News
14 May 2019 - 3:22 PM  UPDATED 14 May 2019 - 3:32 PM

One young woman had some strong words for Victoria's Treaty Advancement Commissioner Jill Gallagher about an hour into proceedings of the weekend-long Koorie Youth Summit which began on Friday. 

The Summit's opening panel, which included former Greens member for Northcote, Lidia Thorpe, and Associate Professor Gregory Phillips from the University of Queensland,  was the first time in the three year treaty process that the state's young people had been given an opportunity dedicated solely to the Commissioner answering their questions. 

For Sissy Austin, the most pressing one was about the make-up of the soon-to-be elected First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria, whose job will be to support Treaty negotiations across the state. 

"As a Keera Weerong young person whose Clan group doesn't have a seat on the Treaty Assembly, how am I supposed to feel like my voice is being heard within Treaty and taken seriously?" Ms Austin asked.

"My question is, is there any hope for all Clan groups to be represented in Treaty?" 

Elections for the Assembly will take place in coming months, and one of the biggest sticking points for detractors of the process is that it does not include representative spots for each of the state's 38 Clans.

Instead, the model – decided after months of community roadshows last year and a period of community feedback – will be made-up of 33 traditional owners: 21 elected representatives from across five electorates, and 12 reserved seats for the formally recognised Traditional Owner groups. 

"The very first design that we made public had no reserved seats, because the community said loud and clear, 'We want a democratic process right across the state'," Ms Gallagher said. 

The reserved seats were borne from 'recognition' of groups which exist under various Victorian legislation, such as the Native Title and Heritage Acts. Ms Gallagher explained that when (and if) formally recognised traditional owner groups change, the model will also change. 

Speaking to NITV News after the panel, Ms Austin said she was not satisfied with the Commissioner's response.

"I left feeling deflated... These Treaty talks have felt like we're being told what's going to happen, not proper consultation," she said. 

Questions around voting eligibility & sovereignty 

Other questions raised during the panel included whether Indigenous people living in Victoria, but whose traditional country falls outside of the state, should be voting in the Assembly elections.

Enrolment is open to Victorian traditional owners 16-years and older right around the country, and Indigenous non-traditional owners who have lived in Victoria for at least three of the past five years. 

Ms Thorpe had clear advice for those who fall in the latter category: "The Lore of the land has always been that the people from that land speak for that land," she said. 

"We need to do this business for ourselves in the best way that we can and in a way that does look after our brothers and sisters that aren't from this land," she said. 

"But I don't support people that aren't from this land being in a position to make a decision on who gets elected and who doesn't."

There were more questions over sovereignty, with some wondering whether negotiations should be between Indigenous clan-groups and the Crown. 

Last year, as the Advancing the Treaty Bill was being debated in the state parliament, the Victorian Greens unsuccessfully pushed for a legislated acknowledgement that sovereignty has never been ceded to be included inthe bill.

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Speaking to Ms Gallagher and Ms Thorpe as an Aboriginal man from outside Victoria, Gregory Phillips offered his observation on the Treaty talks he has witnessed over the last few years. 

"I actually think you're saying more the same things than different," he said. "You're just maybe disagreeing on how to get there.

"What I can see from the outside is you're re-learning how to re-form your own government, and that's going to take time because we've been dis-empowered for so long." 

'We are Black and Deadly'

The Summit continued over Saturday and Sunday with panels covering this years' theme of 'Past, Present, Future'. It included screenings of the documentary After the Apology, yarning circles and live music, tackling issues from climate change and caring for country to cultural connection and self-determination. 

At one point during the second night, following an emotional panel discussion about the removal of Aboriginal children, the delegates formed a circle.

Holding hands, tears streaming down their faces, the group screamed three times: 'we are black and deadly'. 

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