Where to now? Improving the state of Victoria's Aboriginal cultural heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage must be recognised as an invaluable asset.

Registered Aboriginal Parties help establish the foundation base for self-determination, self-recognition and identity. They enable us to work within culture, strengthening our connection to our Ancestors, our tangible and intangible heritage and how we exercise our inherent rights under Lore and law.

Aboriginal cultural heritage must be recognised as an invaluable asset, and importantly, in the context of land development, there needs to be a shift in political and administrative thinking that recognises that Aboriginal cultural heritage needs to be cared for in the landscape rather than ‘salvaged’ to make way for development.

RAPs also need to be further empowered in the CHMP process. Aboriginal cultural heritage protection and development can happen together, and in fact, the outcome for the development is likely to be far more positive.

The Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council has a clear goal of appointing RAPs with respect to the whole of Victoria. Since formation, the Council has appointed RAPs to 74% of the State. However, there remains room for RAPs to be further empowered to care for Country, enshrining self-determination in law and practice. The strategic objectives of the Council are outlined in Figure 3.

The Council has established the legislative review and Regulatory Functions Committee to assist them in proposing a series of amendments to the AHA. As discussed above, the Council and Committee have prepared a Discussion Paper, Taking Control of Our Heritage, outlining the proposals for legislative change. The proposed changes generally fall along three themes:

  • furthering self-determination for RAPs
  • increasing autonomy for the Council
  • recognising, protecting, and conserving Aboriginal cultural heritage

The Discussion Paper closed for comment on 30 November 2020. Once the submissions review process is complete, the committee will submit a reform proposal to Council. This is expected to be finalised by February 2021. The proposal will then be submitted to the Victorian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and launched at the Taking Control of Our Heritage Indigenous Cultural Heritage Conference in March 2021.

That said, legislative reform is only part of the process of caring for Culture. A particularly powerful shift will come when we stop thinking in terms of 'protection' and more in terms of 'caring for Culture.' While in some instances the language of 'protection' may be relevant and appropriate, thinking only in terms of defensive measures is too reductive. Instead, opening the discussion up to ideas about how to care for Culture, expands the possibilities of what can be achieved.

Figure 3: Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council, Strategic Plan 2017-2021

Our objectives

  1. Aboriginal people have strengthened pride and knowledge in our cultural heritage.
  2. The Victorian community has a deeper understanding of Aboriginal cultural heritage.
  3. Council has control over its operations.
  4. Strengthened coverage, capacity and sustainability of RAPs.
  5. Increased Council capacity and successful transition to new responsibilities.

The primary aim of this discussion paper is to start a conversation about how Victoria’s Aboriginal communities can be empowered to care for culture in a wholistic sense. This includes caring for Country, building collaborative partnerships with galleries, library, archives and museums to connect people to their cultural objects and pursue truth telling, building a vibrant and sustainable art and performance sector, and facilitating language revitalisation opportunities.

Discussion question: What is your vision for care of Aboriginal cultural heritage in Victoria in the future?

  • Where to from here?
  • What are your recommendations for improving the state of Victoria’s Aboriginal cultural heritage?
  • Do you have any case studies or examples you wish to provide?
  • Do you have any examples of where land management and management of Cultural values produces positive outcomes?