It started with the sound of the didgeridoo calling us to attention.
The scent of the eucalyptus gently wafted through the air as the fire coolamon was brought into the room.
There was silence as words, in a language as old as time, were spoken welcoming us to this place.
A place of pride in achievements, of stories portrayed on the wall and flags that symbolised more than just winning a competition.
It was the 10th annual Dungala Kaiela Oration, at Rumbalara Football Club.
It was also a weaving of wisdom in stories that told about being at home on country and at home in the world.
Stories that touched our hearts. Stories that challenged us, gently but powerfully.
Dr Moana Jackson is a Maori Elder and a keeper and teller of these stories.
He is also a prominent Mâori lawyer, social justice advocate and was elected chair of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus of the United Nations working group on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Beginning with a story of his granddaughter calling her Pakeha friend to catch up as she went looking for the future, Dr Moana took us on a journey exploring the United Nations drafting of The Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its desire to allow indigenous people to determine their own destinies and the exciting treaty challenges for Victoria.
This United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a public and international attempt to reclaim humanity that has so long been denied to the many and diverse indigenous peoples across the world.
Through stories Dr Moana helped us begin to understand the challenge that faces all countries that have been colonised.
Every indigenous representative who participated in the drafting of The Declaration all had the same story: stories that were often shocking and so overwhelmingly sad to hear.
It was a story of dispossession, violence, genocide and the brutality of the colonisation.
It was this colonisation that denied the humanity of all indigenous peoples regardless of their place in the world: they were regarded as less than human.
But there was another part to the stories: ‘‘a noble beauty’’.
A nobility to the survival and resistance and a determined beauty in not letting their stories die.
Although the many indigenous nations have different languages and customs, there are profound similarities: a deep, unique understanding of and connection to land, and knowledge that their people survived the terrors of colonisation without giving up the integrity of who they were.
As Dr Moana explained, the love of and ‘‘being with’’ the land defines who you are and your rights.
These rights that come from such a deep connection to land — are not imported from somewhere else and are a defining difference between indigenous peoples and colonisers.
And for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here in Australia, this is no different.
And so Dr Moana turned to the question of treaty.
The origins of the word ‘‘treaty’’ mean a way of bringing people together.
Treaty offers a chance to define a new relationship, but must be based on an acceptance of sovereignty and recognition of the status and place of the indigenous peoples who are treating.
Currently there is an exciting challenge in Victoria.
Treaty offers an opportunity to recognise the different nations around the state, and the ability to be self-determining is the basis on which a new relationship can be forged.
So Dr Moana explored three important considerations for treaty:
●If there are to be meaningful relationships with the colonisers/invaders/settlers, however you describe them, its important that we never forget the past.
As Dr Jackson explained, ‘‘This is not a call for guilt or sadness, but to allow this to be the catalyst for change. If we forget the past, we forget the base on which we should be building a new relationship. We remember those who resisted and acknowledge the noble beauty of resistance and struggle.’’
●Shape the treaty to the future. Acknowledge that the current Aboriginal people are not the same as their ancestors of 200 years ago they are now part of a different world.
●Plan for the future and ensure any treaties are sufficiently strong to allow for self-determination, flexible, so those who come later can find a place and visionary enough to imagine a different future.
As Dr Moana concluded: ‘‘Indigenous peoples across the world have never shirked a challenge. We have to dare to imagine a future. If we imagine it to be a better place for our children and grandchildren, so everyone on Country feels at home, then the question to everyone else is ‘Can you keep up, Can you share the dream?’.’’
To find out more about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples visit https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/un-declaration-rights-indigenous-peoples-1