The South Australian Government has signed a formal agreement with an Aboriginal nation which they say is the first significant step in establishing a state based treaty.
Representatives of the Narungga Nation, who are the First Peoples of the Yorke Peninsula and the SA Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Kyam Maher, signed the Buthera Agreement in SA Parliament on Friday 16 February.
The agreement commits both parties to negotiate for treaty over the next three years and includes a commitment from the government to provide support to Narungga in economic and community development work.
It is the culmination of a year-long process which began with Treaty Commissioner, Dr Roger Thomas seeking the views of Aboriginal South Australians, before the government entered into discussions with three Aboriginal nations on treaty.
Garry Goldsmith, Chair of the Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation (NNAC) told the crowd assembled at Parliament House in Adelaide that the Buthera Agreement is more than a simple agreement. He said that it is symbolic and of significance not just to Narungga, but also to the state of South Australia, Aboriginal nations in general and to non-Aboriginal Australians.
“It sets the parameters for an equal and equitable relationship, to work towards positive change for our people”
“It acknowledges our ownership and rich relationship with our country, our language to be revived our songs and dance to be enjoyed and to increase our longevity and to have a better quality of life for current and future generations” Mr Goldsmith said.
Kyam Maher, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said that “the signing of this historic agreement is first and significant step towards treaty in this state”.
“It’s a combination of the South Australian Government’s work with the Narungga nation and a reflection of our commitment to Aboriginal governance and leadership in this state. We can and should all be extraordinarily proud of this milestone in this process in this state” he said.
Minister Maher explained why treaty was so strongly on his government’s agenda.
“Treaty remains the most important unfinished business in Australia today. Australia is the only nation of those we compare ourselves to without a treaty with the first peoples of the land. It was not a peaceful settlement 230 years ago, it was not even close to fair or just.” he said.
“As a nation we can not properly stand up while we refuse to acknowledge and recognise our past.”
“Until you take steps to right the wrongs of what happened, only then can you work to a more positive future.
“Treaty is an important next step. Treaty could go a long way towards helping Aboriginal people get on an equal footing.
Minister Maher noted in his speech that a state based treaty process did not remove the need for treaty at a national level.
“A state government treaty can not address all the consequences of European settlement and its legacy of injustice. A Federal treaty process is I think inevitably necessary, as a crucial next step in our journey as a nation” he said.
The Narungga nation were represented in the negotiations with the SA Government by Anthony McAvoy SC, along with SA Native Title Services (SANTS) Lawyers Andrew Beckworth, Olivia Brownsey and Osker Linde. Support for the community meetings was provided by SANTS administrative and legal support staff.
Mr Linde congratulated Narungga people on making the most of the opportunities that were presented by the talks with the Government.
“The Agreement provides some much-needed resources to develop NNACs capacity to fully realise the benefits of the agreement, including the establishment of fishing and aquaculture businesses and co management agreements on national parks within their territories” he said
“It’s notable that the Government was willing to commit to working with Narungga towards legislative change that could see them realise a treaty in what will hopefully be the near future” he said.
The negotiations towards the Buthera Agreement took only twelve weeks, in face of opposition from some members of the Narungga community.
On 18 January, three Narungga women won an extension of time in the Supreme Court for people to consider the next step in treaty negotiations with the State Government. The agreement was then accepted by the community at a meeting on 3 February.
The signing came the day before the SA Government goes into caretaker mode, the period in which the government must avoid making major decisions that would limit the freedom of action of an incoming government.
The Opposition Leader Steven Marshall has previously said that plans for treaty are unworkable and not a priority for Aboriginal communities in South Australia.
Mr Goldsmith explained that the name of the Buthera Agreement has cultural significance to Narungga people.
“The Buthera Agreement represents our Narungga dreaming, the foundation of our creation. Dreaming of Buthera, a giant man demonstrating his strength, resilience and passion towards his people. This emanates into who we are today as Narungga descendants, and a nation rich in passion, pride, culture and traditions” he said.
Mr Goldsmith noted that the signing ceremony marked the beginning of an important new process.
“One man said to me today ‘the hard work starts now’” he said.
“So let’s make sure from here on in and what we do to commemorate Buthera we too can stand tall” Mr Goldsmith said.
By Lucy Kingston
SANTS acknowledges that the land on which our office is based is the traditional lands for the Kaurna people and we respect their spiritual and cultural relationship with their country.