In a landmark piece of legislation, the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council was created through the Aboriginal Heritage Act 2006, as the only statutory authority composed entirely of Victorian Traditional Owners. Then, as now, the significance of Council’s representation is a positive step towards empowerment.

Today, some 15 years later, a seismic change has happened in the way that Traditional Owners’ rights, responsibilities, knowledge and voice is considered and appreciated in the broader community. As a Council, we are true to our values and provide leadership that is constructive, visionary and forward-thinking.

Government’s own policies of self-determination for Victorian Traditional Owners are reflective of this change but it is time that they are implemented in legislation. The time has come for Traditional Owners to do more than play a part, they must realise their rights to control their Cultural Heritage through the law that governs the protection and management of that Cultural Heritage, we do this is not only for us but for all Victorians.

The health and wellbeing of our People has been affected in all kinds of ways. Working with and respecting Traditional Owners will make a difference. What’s happened so far has made a difference, and further reforming of the Act will make a difference as well.

Our Peoples’ Cultures are bound by our relationships to each other, our Countries and our Ancestors. Fundamental to our wellbeing is a connection to our Culture and our connection to each other is a core part of this. We speak to, with and for our Peoples to maintain our rights as First Peoples to have our voices heard and valued.

As a Council of Traditional Owners, we seek to advocate for the inherent rights of our Peoples. We communicate the spiritual, cultural and intergenerational responsibilities of our Peoples and educate all in the community on who we are as Traditional Owners, who our Ancestors were and who our children will be. In all, we do we will apply the principles of self-determination and advocate for these rights to be activated and respected. Everybody in the Victorian community needs to learn, understand and respect Aboriginal Cultural Heritage. We will all be better for the experience.

Together, across generations, we are the protectors of Cultural Heritage through imposed legislation and community cultural expectations. It is in our children’s lifetimes that our ambitions to be accorded the rights outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will be realised. This Declaration enshrines the rights of our People and affirms that Indigenous Peoples are equal to all other peoples while recognising the right of all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such.

The Act and Declaration, together, provide some of the greatest protections for Traditional Owners in the country. However, there is still much to be done in realising a fundamentally self-determined and tangible ownership of our Culture, Heritage, History and Country.

Mick Harding
Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council