Wamba Wamba Mutthi Mutthi man Jason Kelly is no stranger to working towards a better future for his people and community and was instrumental in the initiation of the Yoorrook Justice Commission, Yoo-rrook is a Wamba Wamba word for truth.
Jason comes from a long line of respected Elders and is proud to talk about his grandparents and the work of his late grandmother who worked tirelessly with other Elders and family members to bring Mungo Man and Mungo Woman home to rest on Country.
“Customary law is where Aboriginal law is recognised which is really important given that we are a continent with 250 different language groups and 400 different nations,” he says “There’s a really good document underpinning our rights as we go through forward with Treaty. I wanted to make sure I had a place on the assembly (FPAV) to keep that at the forefront.”
Recently the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria announced the re-election of Jason as an assembly member in the next phase of Treaty negations. His new vision for the Assembly (FPAV) and community includes the application of International best practice principals to draft a Peace Accord with the state government authoring an official agreement to come to peace in conflict, giving justice and recognition of invasion on the lands and waters of First Nations people. His second priority is to have the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDRIP) implemented in policy in the Koorie Justice Unit.
Jason is exploring how to progress the human rights of not just Aboriginal Victorians but all First Nations Peoples across Australia.
“I don’t really like the word reconciliation because it refers to a relationship to begin with and after all how does one reconcile genocide, but I aim for something bigger, for transformation.”
He says he is constantly referring back to the United Nations Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). “There’s your treaty there, there’s your voice there in a really important international policy. Not unlike the charter of human rights.”
Jason says it’s the only policy document he knows of, ratified by the United Nations that gives weight to customary law. “Customary law is where Aboriginal law is recognised which is really important given that we are a continent with 250 different language groups and 400 different nations,” he says “There’s a really good document underpinning our rights as we go through forward with Treaty. I wanted to make sure I had a place on the assembly (FPAV) to keep that at the forefront.”
Previously when I interviewed Jason Kelly on Treaty and the announcement of the Truth-telling commission for 3KND’s Ballit Dhumba (Strong Talk) he discussed the process of healing and transformation.
“People will see and learn that genocide has occurred. When you’re looking at the massacres, the protection era, the assimilation era, intergenerational trauma, that war of colonisation that is still continuing. The treaty itself,” he says “When we are able to take control of our destiny in terms of the healing and supporting everybody else to heal. That will be the smoking ceremony for all Victorians and all Australians. And hopefully, we’ve ensured our right to co-exist. And we’ve got the ability to deliver reconciliation.”
Jason says, “I don’t really like the word reconciliation because it refers to a relationship to begin with and after all how does one reconcile genocide, but I aim for something bigger, for transformation.”
When speaking about his peoples’ system of law and kinship or ‘totems’ and how that works for more than 38 nations in Victoria. The treaty in itself fits within that system and has a relationship with our equal opposite.
He says by allowing us the pride again to take control of our own destiny we’ve then got the opportunity to reverse the effects of colonisation because we’re leading the way.
“We’re having a say about our destiny and the people will understand why the eagle must marry the crow. Unless like our law you marry equal opposites,” he says “they’ll never have an understanding of the universe. That’s what’s been missing. That’s what we are talking about with the Closing the Gap agreement.”
Jason says he won’t see it in his lifetime but by bringing back that culture and the possibility of language being fluent again, his people will be having ceremony again.
The next steps and vision for Treaty in Victoria
When it comes to Aboriginal health and the quality-of-life Jason says community control goes to the heart of self-determination.
He says the critical element is grass roots which he believes is something we’ve got away from. “Local-level individual communities know what’s best for them.”
I think that’s where UNDRIP as a legislative piece will give power to individuals and communities collectively,” he says.
Up to now the foundation for Treaty in Victoria has been laid and the next phase includes the development of the framework. So far, the First People’s Assembly of Victoria has set up The Yoorrook Justice Commission, Self-determination Fund, Treaty Authority and the newly appointed Elders Voice Co-Chairs to assist cultural authority and guidance to the Assembly members.
In part two of this interview with Jason Kelly the discussion leads to clan-based treaties and options around what Treaty/Treaties could look like.
The Treaty Authority statewide representative body has always said nothing is off the table.
This includes Treaties between clans and nations.
Jason says, “This is why I am committed to getting the Peace Accord and getting UNDRIP into legislation.”
He would like to see Registered Aboriginal Parties and the Traditional Owner Groups, and all other Aboriginal Victorians work towards an agreement in what he says could be a
one page document for when off country mob and stolen generations come onto country and that they were cared for and can go to certain meeting places where there would be a cultural exchange to maintain and strengthen connections. A place of safety.
“We know what’s best and it’s time for a change and we know what’s best for us and we would rather have a control and say than having those entities assuming for us.”
With the Assembly setting its sights on reducing the very high rates of children in out-of-home care and the crisis on recidivism and incarceration Jason refers to the High Court case and Mabo decision when it comes to the upcoming referendum. He says Victoria got it right with Truth, Treaty, and Voice. He says the decision for the Statement from the Heart was to have something more meaningful than just an acknowledgement in the Constitution. He says that when Aboriginal Victorians were included in the state constitution in 2004 it did nothing for Closing the Gap Measures which is why they’ve chosen this pathway with Treaty.
He says all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a right to co-exist and have a meaningful say in how to have an impact in addressing all those Closing the Gap commitments.
Sovereignty has not been ceded and the Treaty will not cede sovereignty as Treaty is an agreement between two sovereigns.
“When asked what the best outcome is I always talk about it ensuring our rights to co-exist,” he says “our old people saw Australia as a bicultural society where we tried to look after people that came onto country, all those became outcomes of the massacres and assimilation era. Surely, we are big enough to co-exist.”
Transformation rather than reconciliation.
Jason Kelly says Treaty in a cultural context is a smoking and healing for everyone. He says “People should have a better understanding of the truth.”
“We know what’s best and it’s time for a change and we know what’s best for us and we would rather have a control and say than have those entities assuming for us.”