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Moving forward

Victorian Government Traditional Owner Engagement Project

There was broad support for the development of guiding documents (i.e. policies, principles, framework etc.) to improve government engagement with Traditional Owners of areas where there is no formal recognition. Participants held that any guiding documents should be based on the feedback that has been provided by Traditional Owners, with key themes emerging in this report around:

  • Recognising and respecting rights
  • Strengthening relationships with a more coordinated government
  • Supporting and resourcing Traditional Owners
  • Building a culturally aware and competent workforce
  • Effectively reaching out, communicating and sharing information
  • Sharing power and control in defining and achieving mutually beneficial outcomes
  • Creating more opportunities for Aboriginal employment and promotion in government, in supportive and culturally safe workplaces.

Traditional Owners supported a coordinated, state-wide approach to improved engagement, yet some emphasised that working well with the government agencies will be best facilitated by also working with groups to understand and respect their own engagement protocols, specific and relevant to them.

Some people spoke about the need for the guiding documents to incorporate an action plan and principles that incorporate respect and inclusion. They also spoke about engagement principles needing to be underpinned by self-determination, with one group referencing government’s obligations under the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.

People talked about the guiding documents needing to deliver genuine benefits and outcomes for Traditional Owners in the short and long term, and called for government to commit to good engagement as an ongoing practice.

There was also recognition that DELWP is developing principles and a framework for engaging with Traditional Owners. Traditional Owners felt that this was a good opportunity for government agencies to work together through a coordinated approach. More generally, people discussed the importance of coordination, acknowledging that this is a big job.

'We don’t want this to be just a box to tick off, just part of a protocol.'

'It’s got to do something. It can’t be a project for a project’s sake. They end up on the shelf.'

'Hopefully the guiding documents will create a space for respectful engagement.'

Traditional Owner Self-Determination Scheme

There was extensive support from Traditional Owners for the Traditional Owner Self-Determination Scheme and an acknowledgement that this project addresses a gap in foundational support. Many groups warned however, of the importance of learning from past mistakes and ensuring that the same practices that have inflicted trauma are not repeated.

Several groups discussed values that should be considered when providing support. People suggested that the Scheme should support projects that:

  • Promote healing for individuals and across families, groups and regions
  • Build on the strengths base of Traditional Owners
  • Respect cultural knowledge and build cultural connections
  • Engage young people in all stages.

Groups discussed the need for clear criteria for accessing resources; assistance to apply, plan and implement projects; detailed feedback for all who make applications; and transparency about allocation of resources. Traditional Owners also felt that groups with less resources and capacity to organise, or who are not incorporated, should not be disadvantaged in accessing the Scheme.

Several groups raised the need for coordination with other agencies and service providers to enable the sharing of relevant information and attendance at meetings.

Some groups also suggested that the Scheme should bring Traditional Owners from across the state together to share their experiences, learnings and ideas, explaining that this would also help to coordinate and maximise resources.

Across the regions, the name of this project was considered and many groups didn’t like the title ‘Traditional Owner Self Determination Scheme’. For some groups, the term ‘Traditional Owner’ has been used to isolate groups without formal recognition and is not considered an inclusive term.

Several groups spoke about the empowerment and power sharing associated with the term ‘self-determination’, with one group stating that self-determination is about having 'the power to make decisions for our people.' Nevertheless, groups warned against using this term, commenting that the term has been adopted 'just to make us feel good.' Finally, groups across the regions stated that the term ‘Scheme’ should be reconsidered. To many people, Scheme carried negative connotations. Terms such as ‘program’ were viewed as more appropriate.