Treaty: Learning From The Native Americans

January 21, 2019

 by Charles Pakana, Treaty Engagement Correspondent


As we move through the treaty engagement process underway within Victoria, regardless of who we are and where we stand on Treaty, we can – and should – learn from the history of treaty making in other countries.

As a member of the Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma, Professor Raymond Orr (College of Arts and Sciences, Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma) is in an almost unique position to provide valuable insight into the treaty process at multiple levels.

Concessions of guilt?

In commenting on the general call for an admission of past wrongdoings to be directly linked, if not embedded, within the treaty process, Professor Orr said: “To try to right past wrongs – that may not be the best way to engage treaty making.

“This is about agreement between equals about what now looks like and what the future’s going to look like; and who has what.

“It’s generally bad negotiating to go in and get concessions of guilt. That can come later. That can be something else.”

Inflation and treaty violation

If Victorian Aboriginal treaty makers are to avoid the mistakes made during treaty negotiations over history, Professor Orr pointed to two distinct issues – inflation and treaty violation.

“One thing that American Indians – I’m sure that if they were with us today – that signed those treaties would have taken into account inflation. And they would have taken into account that if whatever land is ceded, then compensation is changes with time.

“It would have also been very important for them to talk about and have explicit language for [US Government treaty violations], what would be the automatic consequences.”

Clarity of boundaries

Professor Orr talked also on the point of boundaries, citing an example in the United States where traditional owners were forcibly moved off their land following treaty with another nation.

“When boundaries are unclear of who belongs where and who owns what, which as you can image on that side of the [US] frontier, people didn’t know or didn’t care,” he said.

“And this is going to be a big part of what’s going on in Australia; and that is who is legitimately allowed to sign thee on the indigenous side and over what. That’s going to be messy.

“[IN the US during the 19th century] It was disastrous,” he said. “Because it made people who were distinct peoples, cultures and perhaps even enemies, be a part of the same political community.”