AS Victoria prepares to start treaty negotiations with traditional landowners, south-west Indigenous representatives have gathered insights from overseas examples.
Delegates from an independent Canadian commission that oversaw a treaty-making process between traditional landowners and government in British Columbia met Eastern Maar representatives at Lady Bay during Reconciliation Week.
British Columbia's treaty making began in the early 1990s and the commission's process director Mark Smith said the regions where treaties were formed had since prospered.
"The sky has not fallen with treaties," Mr Smith said. "They have strengthened the governments of Canada, not weakened it, with another order of indigenous government."
He said in the commission's experience, self-determination, self-government and nation building were the "fundamental goal" of treaty making.
"This includes a constitution for the nation, spelling out the structure and laws of the nation, and is an opportunity to strengthen the government of the traditional land owner in culturally appropriate and grounded ways," Mr Smith said. "Treaties should be about a sharing of sovereignty, a sharing of power."
He said the treaties formed in British Columbia had since changed to become increasingly flexible.
"They are not final settlements but the beginning of a new more respectful and balanced relationship between indigenous peoples and government," Mr Smith said.
A Victorian First Peoples' Assembly will help decide the Victorian treaty's ground rules, set up a fund to support traditional owners through the process, and establish an independent umpire similar to the British Columbia Treaty Commission.
Thirty-three traditional owners will be elected to the assembly next month.
Eastern Maar Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Jamie Lowe said following the assembly's work, communities in the south-west would have a better understanding of what a treaty would mean.
"There could be greater access to cultural land, even freehold land, we're also talking about services that are earmarked for Aboriginal communities that mean our communities take further control of those through self-determination," Mr Lowe said.
"I think it is fairly well documented the gaps that are out there, and the social challenges that our communities have. One of the major reasons is we don't have control of our own services and resources.
"Through the treaty conversation, we want to inform both the Aboriginal community and non-Aboriginal community as to what this is. It's not taking anything away from anyone, it's actually strengthening both communities."
Mr Lowe said meeting with the Canadian delegates had reinforced to him the need for an independent commission that oversaw negotiations.
"All evidence tells us that there needs to be an independent umpire, who just keeps everyone honest," he said.
Mr Smith echoed the sentiment and added a commission would stop a deadlock in negotiations.
"There will always be an imbalance of power in treaty negotiations between Indigenous peoples and the state, and an independent commission can assist in levelling the playing field," he said.
"Negotiations will take a long time, so it's also important to have an independent commission to keep things going, and it's very important to give that commission a strong foundation with legislation."
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