Contributed by Ben Wilson
The announcement by the Andrews Victorian of a landmark Truth and Justice Royal Commission is an important initiative That should have taken place a long time ago.
Most royal commissions symbolic and best and a whitewash at worst. This is one of those rare exceptions, where it might contribute towards public discussion of and healing past injustices inflicted on First Nations people. If it does this, it will be a lesson to the whole nation.
A particularly important issue is the stolen generation, which is continuing to inflict its impact on the victims and their communities. This is where children were routinely removed from their parents and families and put into ‘white’ homes. Many of Victoria’s First Nations people were once put, a more appropriate word is imprisoned, into detention centres called reserves. Both served to break up tribes, culture, and connection with the land.
There is the continuing reality of deaths in custody, disproportionate imprisonment, exclusion, and a higher level of poverty and disadvantage than that existing in the nonindigenous community.
Victoria is also the state that has progressed further in moving towards achieving a treaty relationship with its original inhabitants. In fact, this and the intended Royal Commission are closely related.
The holding of a truth and justice commission has been pushed for by the state’s First Peoples’ Assembly, which is laying the groundwork for the negotiation of state-based treaties in the future. They want the addition of recognition of the story of resilience, courage, and fight for self-determination, under the initial colonial dispossession and after.
Most of the appointed commissioners will come from the First Nations people. Stories will be heard in the truth telling process. What comes out will be documented.
The challenge will then be to take the next step towards completing the treaty process. Doing this will be an even tougher challenge involving all of us. Overcoming the legacy of mistreatment and valuing the contribution of the world’s oldest culture are fundamental to moving forward as a nation.