Indigenous Territorians question the future of treaty in the NT, considering a change in direction

Indigenous Territorians question the future of treaty in the NT, considering a change in direction Larrakia land rights activists, including Bobby Secretary, held protests in Darwin in the early 1970s. (Territory Stories: Bill Day)

Fifty-three years ago, a small group of Larrakia people made a big stand.

Bobby Secretary and Harry Adam made history when they raised the Larrakia flag outside the Darwin courthouse, in a symbol of the Larrakia people's call for land ownership and rights.

In the years that followed, Larrakia leaders would go on to sign a petition to Queen Elizabeth II, issue the Barunga Statement and sign bark petitions — all in an effort to gain land rights, treaty and political representation.

On Monday this week – the beginning of NAIDOC Week – the Larrakia flag was raised again in Darwin, as those calls for treaty continue to go unanswered.

Hope reignited six years ago when the NT's Labor government promised a treaty, and years later the process was well underway – but it came to a grinding halt over Christmas in 2022, when the treaty commission was quietly disbanded.

Then the NT government again promised to deliver a treaty earlier this year, claiming the process had slowed during the Voice referendum but would be rebooted.

This NAIDOC Week, in the year of an election, discussions about treaty are continuing in the territory, although no real timeline or pathway has been established.

For Larrakia leader Richard Fejo, progress for First Nations people means equity and equality with the rest of Australia, and treaty makes up a part of that.

But he recognises that progress can come slowly.

"Treaty may be an end result, but treaty might be five, 10, 20 years down the road," he said.

"What we need to focus on is now, what's happening around us, and the disadvantages we face today."

In the NT, where more than 30 per cent of the population are Aboriginal, the gap between outcomes for First Nations and non-Indigenous Australians can be glaring.

Poor housing conditions, tragic health outcomes and inadequate access to opportunity are issues hundreds of people in remote communities grapple with every day.

Mr Fejo said treaty needed to keep being discussed, but that the deficits and disparities in outcomes in the territory need more immediate action.

"To have a treaty, we have to have two parties sitting equally at the table. And I don't think Aboriginal people are currently sitting equally at the table with the rest of Australia," he said.

Demand for immediate action to tackle disadvantage

There are diverse opinions on treaty across the country, but calls have always been widespread and strong in the Northern Territory.

Local Indigenous land councils have always welcomed steps towards it, and many now say it's the best next step forward, particularly after the failed Voice referendum.

But some young Indigenous Territorians are considering a change in direction, with several youth leaders telling the ABC during Reconciliation Week that they doubted governments' ability to enact change.

Some even rejected the idea of reconciliation altogether.

Rihanna Frances-Clark, Mr Fejo's granddaughter, said she was not sure if a treaty was the best way forward anymore, and thought priority should lie with providing tangible help to people in remote communities.

"Out in communities, I know some live unhealthy lifestyles, they have alcohol, too much sugar," she said.

"I want to help them make healthier choices so they can live a healthier, happier life."

She said solutions should come directly from communities, potentially by bypassing the politics and policy that has slowed progress for too long.

"It needs to be tailored for communities," she said.

"I want to go out [to communities] and help, I want to learn what they want to do to make their community better."

The future of treaty in limbo

There has been some progress made towards treaty in the NT since the territory government revived plans earlier this year.

Treaty symposiums have popped up around the territory, and a funding pool of $300,000 has been announced to support truth-telling activities and initiatives.

But as the NT election looms, treaty has not been prioritised as a talking point for the major parties.

And if the Country Liberal Party (CLP) wins government, the party has indicated it will scrap plans for treaty, to instead focus on "providing local government reform and leadership into remote communities".

It leaves the future of treaty in the NT in limbo, while questions over its effectiveness to close the gap remain.

Around Australia, the treaty process is underway in most other states and territories.

Victoria has concluded its truth-telling commission and Queensland is embarking on the same process next month, while South Australia has created its own Voice to Parliament.

  • https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/indigenous-territorians-question-the-future-of-treaty-in-the-nt-considering-a-change-in-direction/ar-BB1pLlln?ocid=00000000

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