As the pathway towards Treaty continues, with the Treaty Authority Bill passed on June 22 in Victoria’s lower house, elected First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Members continue to be the voice for First Peoples in their local communities.

The bill, which saw just one MP vote against it, creates a key piece of architecture to assist the journey towards Treaty. It will facilitate an agreement signed last month between the state government and the First Peoples’ Assembly, and will establish an independent Treaty ‘umpire’ that will sit outside the usual government bureaucracy and be led entirely by First Nations People.

The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria is the independent and democratically-elected body which represents Traditional Owners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria. The South East region, which covers Gippsland, is represented by Kaylene Williamson, Alice Pepper, Peter Hood and Troy McDonald.

Kaylene Williamson is a descendant of the Gunai Kurnai people of East Gippsland. The mother of two has a background in human resources management, education and Aboriginal engagement. Mrs Williamson spoke to the Gippsland Times to talk more about the Treaty process and what being elected to the First Peoples’ Assembly means for Gippsland.

Kaylene Williamson is a descendant of the Gunai Kurnai people of East Gippsland and an Assembly Member for the South East region.

“I’m one of the 31 members of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, and one of four for the South East region. I tend to cover the Sale community as that’s where I was raised and grew up, being a Stratford girl,” Mrs Williamson said.

“I love the Knob Reserve in Stratford. There’s some amazing cultural artifacts and history there. The sunrise in the early morning is to die for.”

Mrs Williamson said the Treaty was “about giving the First People of this country a voice, and giving some of the power back”.

“It’s so we can actually have true self-determination in what we want in life. This is what we would like to see, and this is the true history of this country.”

“We’ve been setting up what a Treaty would look like, and seeing what that would look like for our people, and what will go into it. We’ve been setting up a foundation with the policies and procedures.

“With the passing of the Bill and getting that established, we now look to the future on how we are going to negotiate, when and with who.

“I want to make sure that everyone gets a fair hearing. There are some in our community that are left behind in this process and don’t get to have a voice. We need to ensure they can have a voice in this process from now.

“I think we’re still a few years off from completing the Treaty process. We really want to wait for the Yoorrook Justice Commission, for their report, which is 2024. We want that to feed into what we’re doing, to ensure we have a voice.

“It takes all of us. This isn’t just an Aboriginal thing, or a First Peoples’ thing. This is a whole community coming together.”

As a Gippslander, Mrs Williamson said she was focusing on the environment and the region’s culture.

“I work at DELWP (Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning) at the moment as a program manager for Aboriginal partnerships, so I’m very passionate about our land and our waters,” she said.

“So I’d like to see our traditional owners have some accountability and to manage those things ourselves. I really want to see education in our schools on Aboriginal culture here in Gippsland, because it’s so rich.”

Mrs Williamson said she would be celebrating family during NAIDOC Week, occurring this week.

“NAIDOC is all about family celebrations. It’s a week to showcase how beautiful our Aboriginal culture is. This year the theme is ‘Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!’, and I think that’s what we’re doing with the Treaty.”

Treaty Authority Bill was passed on Wednesday, June 22 in the Legislative Assembly. Photos: Contributed.