UPDATE 28. April 2021: NT stolen generation sues federal govt
PROLOGUE: Already the fact that it is the government of Australia , which is sitting in the driver’s seat, does determine the fate of this commission and though some issues might be highlighted its present constitution does not serve the purpose. In order not to be just a stage-play of historical story-telling, the Aboriginal caucus must demand and achieve the following:
This Truth Commission must be absolutely independent, have a self-cleansing mechanism to rule out that members are placed into the commission with a hidden agenda, and given full access to all governmental archives. It must be chaired by the First Peoples’ Assembly.
The commission must be bestowed with the legal powers to call governmental and non-governmental entities (including multinational corporations) as well as individuals into the stand and ensure that everybody, who wants to present evidence, is heard.
The commission must have the right and capabilities to provide for witness protection.
The scope of the commission must be all-encompassing and include also all the cases of injustices and crimes of governmental actions until today
Victoria launches truth commission into ongoing effect of violent colonisation on Aboriginal people
The first inquiry of its kind in Australia has been compared to South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission
|Victoria has announced a truth commission to investigate past and ongoing injustices against Aboriginal Australians. Photograph: Speed Media/Icon SMI/Zuma Press/Rex/Shutterstock|
By Calla Wahlquist - 09. March 2021
The Victorian government in Australia is holding an inquiry into the ongoing effects of the violent dispossession and genocide of Aboriginal people during colonisation by the British empire and racist policies by Australian governments.
The Yoo-rrook justice commission, named for the Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba word for ‘truth’, was announced on Tuesday as part of a long-running treaty process.
It will be given a remit to investigate both historical and ongoing injustices against Aboriginal Australians and has been compared to South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission.
It’s the first commission of its kind in Australia and will be given the powers of a royal commission, meaning it will be able to compel evidence under oath.
The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, the elected body that is responsible for progressing the treaty process, said the commission was a commitment to telling the truth. “It will compel us to confront what’s come before. To acknowledge that the pain in our past lives on in our present,” the assembly said in a joint statement with the Victorian government.
“And to recognise that without truth, without justice, there can be no Treaty. Because, 233 years on, Aboriginal Victorians continue to experience outcomes far worse than non-Aboriginal Victorians.”
The assembly co-chair Marcus Stuart, a Taungurung man, said it was “hard to describe what this will mean for our old people, our ancestors, our elders who have fought decades and decades for this”.
Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, a Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman and co-chair for the assembly, said the process would be traumatic but was necessary.
“Our ancestors endured genocide, massacres, and that truth needs to be told,” she said. “It will only draw us closer to the wider community, who will then understand about the impacts of past injustices, the intergenerational trauma that our young fellas are facing today.”
According to research conducted by the Koorie Heritage Trust, several thousand Aboriginal people were massacred by colonisers in Victoria in the 18 years from 1836 to 1856. Guardian Australia’s massacre mapping project, conducted in conjunction with the University of Newcastle, lists dozens of reported massacres in Victoria, the largest of which involved the massacre of 300 Aboriginal people by stockmen and shepherds on a sheep property run by George Faithfull at Oxley in 1841.
Faithfull is still recognised as one of the founders of the nearby town of Wangaratta, where a street is named after him and his role in the state’s worst massacre is not widely known. It’s one of the painful truths the commission intends to air.
|The Australian settler governance has to face now a young generation of bright Aboriginal rights defenders.|
The Victorian deputy premier, James Merlino, said the truth-telling process, first flagged in July, was “long overdue”.
“It’s an acknowledgment that the pain in our past is present in the lives of people right now. It’s a recognition that, without truth, without justice, you can’t have a treaty,” Merlino said. “You can’t take that incredibly powerful step forward until we go through this process of truth and justice.
“Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike will have the opportunity to tell their whole story, for that to be a path to truth and a path to healing. You can’t have true reconciliation for all Victorians until we go through this process.”
The commission has been welcomed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups, many of which have been calling for a national truth and justice commission as a necessary precursor to treaty negotiations.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017, the most recent national attempt to update the Australian constitution to reflect the sovereignty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clans, recommended the creation of a Makarrata commission, which would serve much the same role as the new Victorian commission. That suggestion, along with the other recommendations of the Uluru statement, was not adopted.
The federal Labor MP Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman and the opposition spokeswoman on Indigenous affairs, said that while a national truth-telling process was still the goal, the announcement of an inquiry in Victoria was “really important and really exciting” and could provide a model for a national process later.
“It’s not about apportioning blame. It’s not about any of that, it’s about everyone in this country having a solid background in the truth of what happened in Australia over the last 230-odd years,” Burney said.
She said Australians should be prepared to hear “horrific stories”.
“I remember myself going to the Northern Territory several years ago and meeting someone whose dad was in one of the massacres in the 20s – 1920s – in the Northern Territory,” she said. “So people should be prepared. But people should have an open heart and an open mind and understand that this is for the whole community, not just the First Nations people.”
Frontier massacres took place in Australia as recently as 1928. Although framed as historical issues, there are people alive today who would be able to give direct evidence, Burney said.
The Victorian government said the majority of the commissioners would be First Nations people, with at least one elder and one person with legal expertise. Hearings will begin this year with an interim report to be handed down after 12 months.