The term ‘Traditional Owner’ has been used in this report to recognise the connections to Country and culture held by the Aboriginal people who contributed to these discussions.
The meaning of ‘Traditional Owner’ varies significantly, depending on the context. While the term may be applied differently by different people and jurisdictions, it very quickly became clear in the consultations for these projects that there are diverse feelings about its meaning and application in the Victorian context.
Throughout the engagement process, people reflected on what the term Traditional Owner means to them. Some felt good about the term, stating, 'It means to not be invisible' and that the term supported their connection to place; 'It means where we are from.'
Whereas others felt less positive about it, explaining, 'Government doesn’t understand and respect the concept of being a Traditional Owner. There is a lot of lip service about what Traditional Owner means – but government has a limited concept that doesn’t match what Traditional Owners think.'
Others felt that it is a difficult term, particularly when a group doesn’t have recognition from the government.
'Traditional Owner doesn’t work for us, it’s not an inclusive term for people without formal recognition and this has caused a lot of conflict.'
Because of this, one group felt that, 'Traditional Owner as a term can lock people out.'
Several people suggested that the term ‘Traditional Owner’ could to be revised to reflect what it means to Aboriginal people, such as ‘people of the Land’, ‘Custodians’ or ‘First Peoples’. Some thought that the term Custodian better reflects the responsibility and process of looking after the land.
'Custodian is better because we don’t actually own it, the land owns us. Even when the government gives back the land, we are still limited by what we can do with the land.'
The diverse preferences held by Aboriginal people for other terms, although not discussed at length throughout these projects, is also acknowledged and at times in this document such terms have been used interchangeably.
Whilst the terms ‘Koorie’ or ‘Koori’ are commonly used to describe Aboriginal people of southeast Australia, we have used the term ‘Aboriginal people’ to include all people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who are living in Victoria. We recognise the diversity of Aboriginal people living throughout Victoria.
Reviewed 08 November 2019