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What are the projects?

The two projects are separate but interrelated.

The 2 projects are separate but interrelated. The Traditional Owner Engagement Project is about strengthening government engagement with Traditional Owners of areas without formal recognition. The Traditional Owner Self Determination Scheme will provide direct support and funding to Traditional Owner groups to strengthen their foundations.

The strength of combining the two projects through a single engagement process was that Traditional Owner groups could speak openly and honestly about how their previous experiences engaging with government continue to affect them, and what is needed to support them now. In general, conversations transitioned smoothly between the two projects. Discussing the two projects alongside one another served additional purposes, including allowing people to meet for two government processes at one time.

Traditional Owner Engagement Project

The Traditional Owner Engagement Project aims to understand and improve the way Victorian Government agencies engage with Traditional Owners who express interest in regions of Victoria without formal recognition. A core outcome is to develop a whole-of-government approach to improving engagement that enables and supports Traditional Owner aspirations and government objectives.

Government engagement is not often effective in regions where formal recognition does not yet exist. The Traditional Owner Engagement Project emerged from this observation and from recognition of the importance of meaningful engagement with Traditional Owners based on principles of self-determination.

The project is not intended to identify the ‘right’ people to speak for Country. Rather, it has sought the input of Traditional Owners about how to direct government to a better way of working with them.

The project focuses on engagement in relation to land and water, cultural heritage, natural resource and environmental management. Traditional Owner interests are not limited to these domains. However, for Traditional Owner groups, management of land, water and cultural heritage values are frequently the first priority when engaging with government agencies and managing these aspects of Country often creates a significant opportunity to partner with government.

Traditional Owner Self Determination Scheme

The Traditional Owner Self Determination Scheme[1] (The Scheme) is a new project established to resource activities that support strong, self-determining Traditional Owner groups, and engagement with formal recognition processes.

The Scheme has a primary focus on providing foundational support for Traditional Owners of the Mid North West, North East and Far East Gippsland regions, as described below. Formal recognition processes have not benefited groups in these regions to date, and they receive little government support despite continuing cultural responsibilities to care for Country and people. Traditional Owner groups without formal recognition risk being further left behind as treaty and self-determination agendas progress.

The Scheme has a secondary focus on providing foundational resources for Traditional Owner groups with formal recognition, particularly groups earlier in formal recognition processes. While some rights and resources flow from formal recognition, groups have foundational support priorities that are not resourced.

Given the legacy of historical dispossession, forced displacement and institutional discrimination, government has a responsibility to support Traditional Owners to participate in formal recognition processes and other self-determined activities. The Scheme has been established to help meet this responsibility. It also responds to a growing acknowledgement of the need for government to resource Traditional Owner groups not only to deliver responsibilities to government under legislation and agreements, but to manage their own foundational capacity and internal group governance matters.

The Scheme received funding of $3 million over four years in the 2018 Victorian Government budget. The Scheme is being co-designed through conversations with Traditional Owners in the first of the four years (2018-19) and will be rolled out over three years from late 2019.

[1] Traditional Owner Self-Determination Scheme is the working title of this project. The title of the new project was discussed with Traditional Owner groups during consultation and is discussed later in this report.