Treaty: A Personal Perspective - Uncle Vincent Peters

January 21, 2019

 by Charles Pakana, Treaty Engagement Correspondent


Over the course of Australia’s colonial and post colonial history, Aboriginal Nations, clans and families have been dispossessed of their lands, language, history, culture and, in many cases, existence.

For Uncle Vincent Peters, a proud Aboriginal man who was so warmly received at the 38 Nations Rally held in Melbourne earlier this month, that history has brought with it a powerful personal story that impacts directly on his view of Treaty.

“My father was killed on a timber mill when I was four years old, and he was the Aboriginal side of the family,” he said. “And his father had been killed on the Burma Railway as a Japanese prisoner of war.

“When my mother remarried it was into a white family, and I didn’t really know what my Aboriginality was about.”

A Recent Journey

Uncle Vincent’s journey – a journey of identity and connection – is recent, starting several years ago when he retired at 65-years old.

It was during his journey that he visited the Melbourne Museum where he saw a photograph of an Aboriginal woman holding a child of about five years old wrapped in a possum skin cloak.

“I walked up to the picture and read it [the caption], and my body started to shake,” he said. “There were tears rolling out of my eyes. The little girl in the possum skin cloak was my great grandmother and the woman holding her, my great great grandmother.

“I never knew they existed at all.”

Proposing an optional ARB model

Along with his family research and greater connection to land, family and culture came a keen interest in the dialogue and community engagement surrounding Victorian Treaty.

At the September 2018 Statewide Treaty Gathering, Uncle Vincent and others sought to put forward their thoughts on the proposed makeup of the Aboriginal Representative Body. Even subsequent to the Gathering, as a member of a group representing the Ngurai-Illam, Dhudhuroa, Jaithmathang and Waywurru Peoples met with the Commissioner to propose a model more in line with the 38 Nations.

In commenting on his support for a 38 Nations model, Uncle Vincent said: “I had attended an authorisation meeting of a tribal group; and that tribal group had actually claimed our ancestral countries.

“Not only that – they claimed our ancestors; and that group was going to be offered a seat without question on the treaty council (ARB).”

Along with others, Uncle Vincent is calling on mapping before treaty. “The map is essential so that people can identify themselves with the country, and it’s those people who are dispossessed in one way or another who went through all of those traumas – it’s essential that they are recognised.

“Otherwise, who is treaty for?”