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Indigenous Law Bulletin

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Robb, Donna (Odegaard) --- "Treaty Justice or Injustice: From a Larrakia Woman's Perspective" [2002] IndigLawB 69; (2002) 5(21) Indigenous Law Bulletin 11

Treaty Justice or Injustice? From a Larrakia Woman’s Perspective

by Donna (Odegaard) Robb

In 1972 the Northern Territory News reported that the Larrakia Treaty Petition was sent to the Queen of England. It read in part:

The British settlers took our land. No treaties were signed with the tribes. Today we are refugees. Refugees in the country of our ancestors. We live in refugee camps without land...without justice. The British Crown signed treaties with the Maoris in New Zealand and the Indians in North America.

We appeal to the Queen to help us, the original people of Australia.
We need land rights and political representation now...
We invite all people of Aboriginal descent to join the tribe of their ancestors. These are the demands of the Gwalwa Daraniki, and we shall not stop until the treaties are signed.[1]

Larrakia people from Darwin in the Northern Territory have always fought for rights to Larrakia lands, waters and resources, and made a significant contribution to the treaty debate through the 1972 Larrakia Treaty Petition. This petition outlined important principles for consideration in the development of a treaty between Aboriginal peoples and the Australian Government.

My major concern about a treaty is what are the practical implications for our people at the grassroots level, and where do we fit in with current treaty discussions? From my observations, Aboriginal people are not opposed to the concept of a treaty but more importantly, not aware of what a treaty will achieve for them. Some responses to the question of a treaty include:

These and many more questions asked by our people concern me about the reality and the practicality of a treaty, and are crucial issues that I believe need to be considered in the treaty making process in Australia. I also believe that it is only by asking Aboriginal people at the grassroots level about the implications of a treaty, that our legal and political architects of a treaty will be able to fully appreciate that it must improve our peoples’ lives rather than further delimit them. For this to occur there needs to be a regional approach to what our immediate needs and aspirations are.

I do not have great faith in governments as advocates of Aboriginal rights, simply because Australian governments historically have not been honest advocates of Aboriginal rights. I believe that responsibility for protecting our rights through a treaty is with us and if we do not do it now and make it happen, fifty years from now there will be no treaty and we will be having discussions about individual and civil rights as members of a dominant society.

There is a lot of talk and rhetoric surrounding the treaty that will no doubt contribute to the debate. However, as a member of the Larrakia nation I can confidently say that we continue to assert capacity building initiatives to achieve economic sustainability, which in effect, is self-governance. As with other Larrakia people I am utilising the skills and experience I have spent a lifetime pursuing to contribute primarily to our people, and also other Aboriginal communities across Australia. I believe we will only reach our full potential as self-governing, self-sustaining Aboriginal communities, and valued members of Australian society if we take an inclusive approach to the formation of a treaty, to enable our people at the grassroots level to participate, enjoy and share our resources to secure our future.

Donna (Odegaard) Robb is a member of the Larrakia language group in Darwin. She has an extensive background in Indigenous heritage, education, land rights and native title. Donna is presently completing a doctorate on the treaty debate.

[1] Wright, J, We call for a treaty (1985) 16-17.

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