Chairperson's introduction

We Are Strong - Chairperson's introduction

During this reporting period, our People have endured extraordinary hardship and deprivation. The fires that ravaged our Country at the end of 2019 were swiftly followed by coronavirus (COVID-19). The effect of these two catastrophes and States of Emergency meant that Traditional Owners had both their connections to Country and Elders disrupted and changed, in many cases, for generations.

During these times of crisis, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council members, called on all Victorians to stand together.

To our People, we spoke as Elders, representatives of our communities, members of Registered Aboriginal Parties (RAPs) and as individuals. We asked you to take strength from your Culture and your community because worse has been experienced and we have survived. From these experiences, in time, we will thrive and our languages will be spoken with pride on every Victorian street.

To our friends and stakeholders, we ask you to stand with us in this time of great trauma - trauma to our Country, trauma to our People and trauma to our Culture. If we are together, supporting one another, we can rebuild a stronger community with wellbeing at its core.

For much of 2020 we will be distanced from each other and, for some of Our People whose distress is at the core of their beings, from their Country and Culture; but we are linked through Spirit. We will always be linked through Spirit and, although we are hurt, we must grab that connection and hold onto it with both hands.

We have all borne so much pain and disconnection from the people and places that we love. Yet we are still here. Still strong. We can all learn from a Culture that has lived here, in this place now called Victoria, for many tens of thousands of generations.

Council works towards realising a vision of all Victorians understanding and respecting our diverse Aboriginal identity and Cultures, with Traditional Owners as the primary custodians for heritage of the past, present and future. We do this through strong partnerships, developing relationships and championing our People. We take time each year to reflect on the important work, the challenges and the people who have helped us get a few more steps closer to that vision.

Our work throughout 2019 and 2020 has brought RAPs, Traditional Owners and Council closer to a shared realisation of their vision for Traditional Owner control of their Cultural Heritage. This has been contributed to through the vital connections supporting our Caring for Country, Taking Control of Our Heritage, Our Places Our Names and Making Change programs.

Most significant of our work this year has been developing Taking Control of our Heritage, a Discussion Paper on legislative reform of the Aboriginal Heritage 2006 (Act). The objective of the Paper is to help everyone, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, Victorian and non-Victorian, have their say on the operation of the Act. Working with RAPs on what can legislatively change to help them better manage Culture on Country has informed the discussion with the voices of Traditional Owners. Considerable stakeholder and public response to the paper will enable Council to present considerations for legislative change in 2021 that are broadly informed and supported.

We are slowly coming through these times and Council looks forward to a time when normalcy returns. A better normal. We want greater understanding of Cultural Heritage through strengthened legislation and accountability from those working within the Act.

Rodney Carter