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aboriginalvictoria.vic.gov.au

Culture and Country

Our shared commitment:

The promotion of the rights and responsibilities under section 19(2) of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

Victorian Aboriginal communities and peoples are culturally diverse, with rich and varied languages, traditions and histories. Aboriginal Victorians continue to strengthen and grow with the resurgence of language, lore and cultural knowledge.

The richness and diversity of Aboriginal history and culture in Victoria, and the resilience and strength of past and present Aboriginal communities and peoples, is something for all Victorians to acknowledge and celebrate.

Goal 18: Aboriginal land, water and cultural rights are realised

18.1 Increase the recognition and enjoyment of Aboriginal land, water and cultural heritage rights

Measures:

  • 18.1.1 Area of Crown land with native title determinations and/or Recognition and Settlement Agreements
  • 18.1.2 Work of the State in advancing the treaty process
  • 18.1.3 Number of Registered Aboriginal Parties that have submitted a notice of intention to enter into an Aboriginal cultural heritage land management agreement
  • 18.1.4 Number of Whole of Country Plans published
  • 18.1.5 Number of Joint Management Plans and area of land covered
  • 18.1.6 Number of cultural burns conducted  
  • 18.1.7 Number of formal partnership agreements for planning and management between Aboriginal communities and key water and catchment agencies

Aboriginal Victorians hold distinct cultural rights, including the right to maintain their spiritual, material and economic relationship with their traditional lands and waters.

Formal recognition

In Victoria there are 3 different processes through which Aboriginal people can seek the formal recognition of the State as Traditional Owners of their ancestral Country:

  • Native title determination under the Native Title Act 1993 
  • Traditional Owner settlement under the Victorian Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 
  • Registered Aboriginal Parties under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006 (Heritage Act).

Native title is recognised across 14,899 square kilometres of land, while a further 30,766 square kilometres of land is recognised under Traditional Owner Settlement Act agreements.

The area of Crown land with native title determinations and/or Recognition and Settlement Agreements has increased dramatically since the enactment of the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 and is expected to continue to rise as Traditional Owner groups negotiate new settlements.

Registered Aboriginal Parties

Under the Heritage Act, Traditional Owner groups can be formally recognised in Victoria as a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP). RAPs are organisations that hold decision-making responsibilities under the Act for protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage in a specified geographical area. The Heritage Act recognises Aboriginal people as primary guardians, keepers and knowledge holders of Aboriginal cultural heritage.

RAPs have responsibilities under the Heritage Act relating to the management of Aboriginal cultural heritage, including:  

  • determining Cultural Heritage Permit applications 
  • evaluating Cultural Heritage Management Plans 
  • making decisions about Cultural Heritage Agreements 
  • entering into Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreements with public land managers

There are 11 RAPs in Victoria which cover approximately 66% of the state.

In 2016, the Victorian Government responded to renewed calls from the Victorian Aboriginal community to advance a treaty process with Aboriginal Victorians as an important component of self-determination. Over the next 2 years, Aboriginal Victorians were engaged online, through widespread regional community consultations and statewide forums on their aspirations for the treaty process.

In January 2018, an independent Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner was appointed to lead the establishment of the Aboriginal Representative Body, to be known as the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria (Assembly), in conjunction with community. In June 2018, Victoria made history by passing Australia’s first ever treaty legislation. The Treaty Act sets the foundation for a strong, modern treaty-making process in Victoria and cements government’s commitment to the treaty process.

In June 2018, the government and the Commissioner announced the launch of the Treaty Community Engagement Program (Program). To date, the Program has provided nearly $2 million to over 30 Aboriginal organisations across Victoria, with more grants to come. These grants have gone to both formally and non-formally recognised groups, highlighting the importance placed by the government on equitably supporting the engagement of all Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians in the treaty process.

The Program supports Traditional Owner groups, non-formally recognised groups and other Aboriginal organisations and businesses to: 

  • engage with Victorian Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal Victorians on key matters relating to the treaty process
  • gain practical insights into how self-determination and treaty can strengthen Victorian communities 
  • build capacity amongst Traditional Owners and other Victorian Aboriginal groups in preparation for the next phase of the treaty process

In August 2019, the government announced the Traditional Owner Nation-Building Support Package. The package will provide $13.6 million over 2 years to support nation-building and treaty readiness for Traditional Owners in formally and non-formally recognised areas.

Between 16 September and 20 October 2019, Aboriginal Victorians cast their vote, electing Victorian Traditional Owners to the inaugural Assembly. The Assembly is made up of 32 seats and is intended to fulfil the role of the Aboriginal Representative Body under the Treaty Act. In this capacity, the Assembly represents the voice of Aboriginal people in Victoria and will work in equal partnership with the State in establishing the elements necessary to support future treaty negotiations.

The Victorian Government will continue to work with Aboriginal Victorians through this process to advance treaty.

For Aboriginal people, ‘Country’ does not just mean the geographical features of a landscape; it relates to all aspects of an Aboriginal person’s existence - culture, spirituality, language, law, family and identity.

Caring for Country is especially important to Traditional Owners who have a cultural responsibility to protect land, waterways and natural resources from harm, and to sustain the wellbeing of the landscape.

Aboriginal cultural heritage land management agreements

One avenue for recognising Aboriginal land, water and cultural heritage rights is through the establishment of Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Land Management Agreements (ACHLMAs). ACHLMAs are designed to facilitate a proactive, holistic approach to managing and protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage and landscape. Since 2017, 1 RAP has entered into an ACHLMA, and 3 have submitted a notice of intention to enter into an ACHLMA.

Whole of Country Plans

Whole of Country Plans are overarching, long-term visions, developed by Traditional Owner groups, that set out clear goals and priorities, principles of engagement and measures of success in caring for Country. In 2018, 2 new Whole of Country Plans were published, bringing the total in Victoria to 9. An additional 3 Whole of Country Plans are currently in production in 2019.

As of June 2019, there are 65 active and ongoing partnership agreements between Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups and key water catchment agencies to promote Aboriginal values and traditional ecological knowledge in water planning and management. This remains an area of significant growth; of these 65 active and ongoing partnership agreements, at least 47 were established over the last 5 years.

To increase Traditional Owners’ and Aboriginal Victorians’ involvement in the water sector, 23 Aboriginal Water Officer positions have been funded across 16 locations in Victoria. Aboriginal Water Officers work in partnership with Traditional Owner Corporations, Aboriginal communities and water agencies to build strong and collaborative relationships, contributing to better environmental outcomes and economic benefits for local Aboriginal communities.

Traditional Owner Settlement Act

The Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 (TOS Act) provides a framework for the Victorian Government to recognise Traditional Owners and their rights to public land.

In 2018, an agreement was reached between the Taungurung people and the State. While this is yet to commence, the total number of agreements reached under the TOS Act is 3.

New settlements continue to be negotiated under the TOS Act. Barengi Gadjin Land Council, which represents Traditional Owners from the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk peoples, is negotiating a settlement agreement to complement their 2005 native title determination.

Two Traditional Owner groups, Eastern Maar and First Peoples of the Millewa Mallee, are currently pursuing TOS Act agreements alongside native title determinations.

The Government is committed to working in partnership with Traditional Owners to adjust policies, practices and support mechanisms to ensure that more TOS Act agreements can be reached at a faster rate.

Right People for Country

The Right People for Country program supports Traditional Owner groups to make agreements about: 

  • boundaries and extent of Country
  • group membership, representation and engagement

Traditional Owners design and lead the agreement-making process and reach their own agreements about ‘right people for Country’ matters. Support is matched to the need of Traditional Owner groups, and includes access to independent facilitators, skills training and support to visit and map country.

These agreements can support Traditional Owner groups in applying to be a RAP and to negotiate settlements under the Traditional Owner Settlement Act 2010 and the Native Title Act 1993.

Supporting strong Traditional Owner groups and improving government engagement

The government is coordinating 2 projects which aim to facilitate better outcomes for Traditional Owners of areas where formal recognition does not yet exist:

  • The Victorian Government Traditional Owner Engagement Project (Engagement Project) 
  • The Traditional Owner Self-Determination Scheme (Scheme)

The Engagement Project aims to understand and improve the way Victorian Government agencies work with Traditional Owners of such areas, while the Scheme will resource a range of activities to support strong self-determining Traditional Owner groups, as well as engagement with formal recognition processes. Funding of $3 million over 4 years in the 2018/19 Victorian Budget will be available through the Scheme. From late 2018 to mid-2019, extensive engagement was undertaken with Traditional Owners for these projects.

Cultural Burning

Traditional Owners from different parts of Victoria have been working closely with Forest Fire Management Victoria to revitalise cultural burning practices. Cultural burning assists in maintaining the land for future generations and reconnecting Aboriginal people with their history and culture.

Between January 2018 and June 2019, Traditional Owners conducted 10 cultural burns with the support of Victorian Government agencies.

In 2018, the Victorian Government launched The Victorian Traditional Owner Cultural Fire Strategy to assist in facilitating future cultural burns by Traditional Owners groups.

Aboriginal Access to Water for Economic Development Program

Nine Traditional Owner organisations have received funding to develop feasibility studies and business cases on water-related projects to support Aboriginal access to water for economic development.

The projects will test the feasibility of aquaculture, bush foods, native plants, water-based education services and water access across Victoria.

The outcomes and findings from the projects will inform a roadmap which aims to outline how Traditional Owners and Aboriginal Victorians can gain access to water for cultural, economic, social and spiritual purposes.

The pilot projects have been co-designed between Traditional Owners, the Federation of Victorian Traditional Owner Corporations, the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation Killara Kooyang Water Project

Gunditji Mirring secured funding for the Killara Kooyang Water Project in October 2018 through the Aboriginal Water Program’s Economic Development Initiative. The Economic Development Initiative aims to identify the range and scale of economic opportunities that arise for Aboriginal enterprises from access to water.

Gunditj Mirring’s on-ground project will pilot the access and use of water for an aquaculture facility in the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape.

Work has progressed on the design of the pilot aquaculture facility in the Bull Paddock at the Lake Condah Mission. Along with piloting a kooyang (short finned eel) farm, the project also includes growing a native food garden and aims to be ‘off the grid’ by installing a solar and battery system.

Several Gunditjmara have been selected to work on the project as research assistants along with representatives from Deakin University. Through successful completion of training they will gain qualifications in both construction induction, and animal ethics and handling.

Joint Management Plans

As genuine partners, the Victorian Government and Traditional Owners have set a new direction for working in collaboration to manage Country. Joint Management Plans recognise and respect Aboriginal land, water and cultural rights and work to embed Aboriginal knowledge in the everyday management of parks and reserves.

In 2018, the Victorian Government entered into its first Joint Management Plans with Gurnaikurnai and Dja Dja Wurrung Traditional Owner groups. Together, these plans cover approximately 940.7km2 of land and include the management of 16 parks and reserves.

Already, Joint Management Plans are leading to new and innovative approaches to land management, such as using traditional language when talking about and naming Country, working with fire agencies to broadly implement cultural burning practices, employing Traditional Owners as park rangers in jointly managed parks and reserves, and enhancing visitor experiences through increasing Traditional Owner interpretation and guiding services.

Through joint management, Traditional Owners are being supported to maintain their cultural responsibilities in caring for Country, as has been the responsibility of their ancestors for thousands of years.

Goal 19: Aboriginal culture and language are supported and celebrated

19.1 Support the preservation, promotion and practice of culture and language

Measures:

  • 19.1.1 Participation in community events which celebrate Aboriginal culture
  • 19.1.2 Investment in Aboriginal language and culture revitalisation programs

Connectedness to culture and community strengthens individual and collective identities, and promotes positive self-esteem, resilience and improved outcomes for Aboriginal people.

While cultural identity is central to the lives of Aboriginal Victorians, all Victorians should celebrate and take pride in Aboriginal culture and language.

Of those who participated in the 2014-15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), more than 50% of Aboriginal Victorians reported being involved in selected cultural events, ceremonies or organisations in the last 12 months.

Past government policies of dispossession and assimilation have led to a decline in Aboriginal cultural practice and language transmission.

Despite this, the strength and resilience of Aboriginal Victorians has helped maintain language and culture, which continue to be practiced and passed onto future generations.

The year 2019 has been declared the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages in an effort to protect and promote Indigenous languages around the world. The International Year of Indigenous Languages is an opportunity to continue raising awareness and take further action to improve the preservation and promotion of Aboriginal languages in Victoria.

The Victorian Government is collaborating with Traditional Owners, organisations and communities across Victoria on a range of activities to support the use and revival of Aboriginal languages.

Key activities include: 

  • Developing accredited training in learning and teaching an endangered Aboriginal language. 
  • Integrating Aboriginal language programs into schools and early childhood services across the state. 
  • Working with Traditional Owners to produce up to 5 documentaries highlighting the importance of language and Aboriginal place names. 
  • Delivering Aboriginal Place names workshops across Victoria to promote the importance of language and to collaboratively consider Aboriginal language when assigning names to roads, features and localities. As of July 2019, 6 workshops have been held across Victoria since 2018 and have brought together over 260 attendees. 
  • Working with Traditional Owners to name meeting rooms across metropolitan and regional office locations. 
  • Sponsoring the River of Language exhibition at the Melbourne Museum.

Supporting members of the Stolen Generations

For Aboriginal Victorians, particularly members of the Stolen Generations, understanding their histories and stories is not only a vital part of identity and pride, it also provides an opportunity to address past and ongoing trauma and support healing.

In 2018/19, the Victorian Government invested $1.38 million in the Healing the Stolen Generations Program. The program aims to boost case management services for Stolen Generations survivors and their families through providing opportunities to heal from the trauma of their past and supporting members in their ability to control and plan for their own future.

In 2018/19, the Victorian Government also invested an additional $2.23 million over 4 years in the Koorie Heritage Trust to boost support for self-determination and to celebrate Aboriginal culture in Victoria.

This funding supports the Koorie Heritage Trust to extend their Koori Family History Service, assisting members of the Aboriginal community, the Stolen Generations and their descendants to trace their family history, access family history records and cultural information. Funding also supports the Koorie Heritage Trust to build the retention and revival of Victorian Aboriginal history through the Oral History Project, which seeks to preserve, protect and promote the Aboriginal cultural heritage of Victoria.

These initiatives form part of the Victorian Government’s commitment to implementing recommendations from the 1997 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission report, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, and recognises that knowing who you are and where you come from is an essential part of identity and pride for Koorie people.

Goal 20: Racism is eliminated

20.1 Address and eliminate racism

Measures:

  • 20.1.1 Proportion of Aboriginal people who report having experienced racism in the previous 12 months
  • 20.1.2 Prevelance of racist attitudes Aboriginal Victorian held by the Victorian community

Racism can have a harmful impact on the cultural identity and confidence of Aboriginal Victorians. Research shows that experiences of racism can also have detrimental long-term health effects, both mentally and physically.

Based on the latest available data from the NATSISS in 2014-15, 37% of Aboriginal Victorians reported feeling unfairly treated at least once in the previous 12 months because of their Aboriginal identity. This highlights the need to continue tackling racist attitudes toward Aboriginal Victorians that remain pervasive within our community.

Racism manifests in many forms including systemically through structures that exclude the participation of Aboriginal Victorians in everyday life. Eliminating racism - in all forms, at all levels - is the responsibility of all Victorians. It is everyone’s duty to work towards a fair and equitable Victoria.

Complaints under the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 relating to Aboriginal Victorians has decreased from 15 in 2016-17 to 9 in 2017-18.

Deadly Questions

In 2018, the Victorian Government launched the award-winning Deadly Questions media campaign to build awareness amongst all Victorians of the rich and diverse cultures of Aboriginal Victorians. The campaign provides Aboriginal Victorians a platform to tell their stories and amplify their voices and also plays an important role in ensuring all Victorians understand the progress and significance of the treaty process.

The Deadly Questions website ( deadlyquestions.vic.gov.au) contains videos and written content from Aboriginal Victorians in response to a range of questions posed by the Victorian public. Since its launch, the Deadly Questions website has received over 600,000 page visits and close to 4,000 questions have been asked.

Beyond this, the campaign has had significant reach, with over 48,000,000 online impressions. Advertising has been used throughout the state, across digital platforms, billboards, radio, television and print media.

The campaign has had success in gaining community support for Victoria’s treaty process. After Deadly Questions had been in the public domain for just over 12 months, independent research found that there was increased support for moves towards a treaty, including: 

  • 51% of surveyed Victorians agreed that “the State should formalise new relations with Aboriginal Victorians”, 35% had a neutral response, with 14% in disagreement.
  • 49% of surveyed Victorians agreed “a treaty between Aboriginal Victorians and the State Government would be a good thing for Victoria”, 37% had a neutral response, with 14% in disagreement.

Reviewed 30 December 2019

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