A GROUP of Indigenous Australians in north central Victoria are vying to represent their communities in the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria.
The Assembly is the first of its kind in Australia and will be the voice of Aboriginal people during the next phase of the treaty process with the Victorian Government.
The state government is bound by law to work with the Assembly.
There will be elections for the Assembly from September 16 - October 20, with all Indigenous Australians over the age of 16 in Victoria eligible to vote.
One of the nominated candidates for the north west region is Raylene Harradine. Ms Harradine is a Latje Latje and Wotjabulluk woman who works as the chief executive of the Bendigo and District Aboriginal Co-Operative.
Ms Harradine nominated for the Assembly because she believed she could make a difference for Indigenous communities in Victoria.
"I have no hidden agendas whatsoever," Ms Harradine said. "I do this as part of my work already. It's always about ensuring our community has a voice."
Ms Harradine said she would bring her wealth of experience - including working in education, the justice system and health care - to the Assembly if elected.
"It's always about focusing on what the community needs are," she said. "I will not be dictating to the community but instead asking them what we can do to make change for the better.
"I want to work with Indigenous people, but also non-Indigenous people too, to make sure we're doing things to bring the wider community along as well. It's about being inclusive with everybody."
Ms Harradine said the Assembly would have to work with the various nations individually rather than establish a single treaty.
"One size will not fit all because of the diversity of clans," she said. "We can't have a blanket treaty.
"If there was a single treaty, there would need to be aspects that are individualised. Treaty can mean different things for different people."
Ms Harradine encouraged all eligible Indigenous Australians to vote so they could have their voices heard.
"It was only in 1967 that we got the vote," she said. "We weren't just considered as flora and fauna anymore - we were recognised as people.
"All of the work that has happened has got us to this point. I congratulate and applaud the work that has gotten us here. It's going to be great for Victoria."
Another candidate for the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria is Annebelle Moore.She is a Wotjobaluk elder who lives in Horsham. She works as a full-time carer and advocate in her community.
While she wrestled with the idea of nominating for the Assembly, Ms Moore said she ultimately knew it was something she wanted to do.
"I know there needs to be a voice for not only elders in the community but also young people," she said.
"It's also about accountability. It's ok to say sorry and have reconciliation and apologise to the stolen generations, but then they do nothing about it."
Ms Moore said she would share her knowledge as an elder.
"It's about us all working together to make changes," she said. "It's not about what I think or what the person down the road thinks. It's about what we can do as a united community.
"I want to focus on things like accessibility, land, housing - housing is a big issue and something that we struggle with. Also, health, education, youth suicide and domestic violence.
"That's only scratching the surface. It's never going to change unless we're united. If we're united, we can move forward."
There also needed to be a focus on welcoming back to country the Aboriginal people who were taken during the stolen generations, Ms Moore said.
"I was part of the stolen generations," she said. "As a child going through the school and welfare system, it was horrible because you get judged for everything.
"Then you come back to country and you have to have to learn. It's a learning process. I didn't come back to country until my early 20s and when I did, I didn't know how to fit in.
"There are lots of us that were stolen that were raised in white Australia. When we come back to country it can be very overwhelming. I don't know how to help that but it is something we need to address."
The process towards the Assembly and a treaty was a "huge step forward," Ms Moore said.
"I think to get to this point is a really positive thing," she said. "Often when we go up against parliament, our voices are not heard.
"We want accountability and this is what we have to do to move forward. It's about standing as a voice for our people. Not just my voice, not just one voice, but many voices."
Another candidate for the north west region is Brendan Kennedy. Mr Kennedy is a language worker and teacher in Robinvale. He is also an artist and a cultural practitioner.
"I just want to be a voice for First Nations people," Mr Kennedy said. "I will put on the table what Aboriginal people in Victoria want.
"We firstly need a treaty but I would also really be pushing hard to establish framework that will improve the lives of Aboriginal people - equality, first of all, but also helping them to gain economic independence.
"I also want to continue to strengthen our culture and regain and strengthen our standing as the first people in Victoria."
The Assembly needed to reflect the diversity of Indigenous people, Mr Kennedy said.
"There are 44 language groups in Victoria and that's before traditional owner groups," he said.
"So we need to include the language groups and the majority of the clan groups. They need to be at the forefront of developing the treaty framework."
The process had been a long time coming, Mr Kennedy said.
"It's been an aspiration for decades to get to a stage where we can begin negotiations," he said. "We have the legislation in place now and things are advancing quite quickly.
"I think it will be really important for elders around the state to finally see some progress happening, so their children and grandchildren can finally reach self-determination and self-governance."
Mr Kennedy said the Assembly needed to focus on early childhood education and development, high incarceration rates, loss of land, language, art, and culture.
"We all will try to deliver and create a framework that will be beneficial for Aboriginal people across the whole state," he said.
"As a north west representative, I would be looking to represent not only the people in my region but all Aboriginal people in Victoria.
"No one should be left behind. We need to move together to move forward as Aboriginal Victorians."
Another candidate is Kenita-Lee McCartney. She is a Wemba Wemba, Wotjibolik and Wiradjuri woman who lives in Swan Hill. She is a small business owner and mother who works as an advocate in her community.
"I am a very proud First Nations woman," Ms McCartney said. "To me, it's very important to protect and preserve culture - not only for now but for future generations.
"That's the reason why I wanted to do this. I want to be a strong advocate and stand alongside the current elders and my ancestors."
Ms McCartney said she would focus on being a voice for those who are unrepresented.
"There are 38 clans in Victoria but at the moment not every nation is part of the process," she said.
"I think every nation needs to speak for itself and be part of this process and I hope to be a strong voice to advocate for that."
While some Indigenous Australians are concerned about the process, Ms McCartney said she believed it could lead to good outcomes.
"It's really hard because us Aboriginal people have not always had a strong relationship with government," she said. "But it is a step forward to do this with and alongside government.
"A lot of people are quite concerned because we've always been given promises but hopefully right now we can work together."
Another candidate is Rodney Carter. Mr Carter is a Dja Dja Wurrung and Yorta Yorta man who lives in Bendigo.
He is the chief executive officer of the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation and council chair person of the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.
Mr Carter said the Assembly would need strong voices to guide the process.
"It's really going to need people who can be a really constructive advocates for what treaty looks like," he said. "I have some really good skills that are pretty complex.
"For me, we need to do something very similar to what government has with a number of different portfolios. It would be interesting to have traditional owners working with the ministers at the highest level.
"It would be really sensible to bring Indigenous knowledge to those broader policies."
Mr Carter has commended the different parties for working together towards a treaty process.
"It's hard to align with all owner groups," he said. "I think it's the best structure that we were able to create over the past couple of years given our differing views."
This could be the start of wider change, Mr Carter said.
"I think we're influencing the Commonwealth at the moment with the Minister for Indigenous Australians and the discussions around constitutional recognition," he said.
"This could lead to different things. If more states and territories get on board, then the Commonwealth wouldn't have any other option but to work towards a treaty."
Another candidate is Nicholas Stewart,a Wamba Wamba man who lives in Bendigo. He works for the North Central Catchment Management Authority as a project officer and the Barapa Wamba Aboriginal water officer.
"I have relatives who were from the stolen generations and I don't feel that they should be left behind," he said. "I want to represent the unrepresented."
Mr Stewart said the Assembly should cover a range of issues.
"I don't think anything should be off the table - health, employment, land management, and the continuation of cultural heritage," he said.
"A lot of people still don't feel safe to practice their culture. We need acceptance of our stolen generations.
"Personally, I would like to see ways of embracing them in the community especially if their identification documents have been lost."
Mr Stewart said while it was great that Victoria had begun the treaty process, it should have started at a national level.
"It should happen federally and with England because that was the place that originally invaded this country," he said. "I think this is something that needs to be pushed internationally.
"The state is a good start but all I see it as is a start. I want a good treaty that would work for everyone - not just Aboriginal people."
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