Australia is the only Common-wealth country never to make a treaty with its indigenous peoples. Why has it proven so difficult? Kathy Marks looks at the vast challenges in Victoria alone – a state that is working towards a national first.
Every school holiday, the train would pick up Daria Atkinson and her four siblings, all aged under 10, and transport them – along with thousands of other Aboriginal children from the countryside – to Melbourne, where they would spend up to two months living with a white family.
“We had to call the adults mum and dad,” recalls Ms Atkinson, now 56.
“We were told how to sit at the table, how to eat properly. We weren’t allowed to get dirty. We had to forget we were Aboriginal. But at least we got to go home – the Stolen Generations didn’t.“
Having experienced first-hand one of Australia’s misguided assimilation programs, Ms Atkinson now works with members of the Stolen Generations in Victoria – people who were permanently separated from their families.
Many of them are still trying to reconnect with their community, culture and traditional country. The quest has acquired a new urgency as Victoria paves the way for treaty discussions with the state’s Aboriginal population – the first Australian jurisdiction to seek a formal agreement with its original inhabitants.
What is a treaty in this context?
- A formal agreement that can redefine the relationship between a government and indigenous peoples
- For many indigenous Australians, recognition of their sovereignty and right to self-determination is a priority
- A treaty can acknowledge and apologise for past wrongs, and establish a “truth-telling” process
- It can include compensation for land and resources lost during colonisation
- It can set out practical agreements on health, education, jobs and land use
- Multiple treaties, with different groups, are a likely outcome