A treaty by any other name?

THE word “treaty” has been mysteriously scrubbed from Perth city council’s treaty with traditional owners.

Answers as to who asked for the word to be removed have been difficult to get out of the council. The “Danjoo-Treaty” to symbolically acknowledge Whadjuk Nyoongars as traditional owners of the Perth area was supposed to be passed at the July 28 council meeting, the last one attended by former CEO Murray Jorgensen.

His presence was symbolically important, having met with the city’s Elders Advisory Group bridyas (bosses) for “boss to boss” conversations while the treaty was developed and committing to present it to commissioners before departing. 

While noting Mr Jorgensen’s efforts work on the treaty, chair commissioner Andrew Hammond said it couldn’t be signed off before his departure from the top job.

Sovereign states

“Look, we’ve got a small problem with using the word ‘treaty’, which I’m sure we can overcome with our staff and the elders’ advisory group,” he said. 

“I’m strongly supportive of the intent and outcomes surrounding this treaty. We can still call it a treaty – draft treaty – until it isn’t, and I really look forward to it getting back here at the August meeting so we can regularise it appropriately.”

But he wasn’t as forthcoming on exactly who raised issues with the term: “There has been much discussion around the use of the word ‘treaty’. Legally, treaty is usually referenced to sovereign states, and the Elders Advisory Group had previously raised reservations.

“The EAG and the City of Perth are working on the most appropriate title of our intentions.

“The deferral occurred through continuing discussions with all stakeholders, including state and federal agencies,” with no further comment.

The treaty was largely symbolic and didn’t involve a land handover, but listed eight aims from the council including “acknowledge past injustices and commit to working in partnership together to build a better future for all” and “ensure the history of Aboriginal people is visible within the footprint of the City of Perth”.

Reconciliation

The treaty was described by city staff as important groundwork for future reconciliation, and a report to commissioners said: “It is recognised that had the city had a positive relationship built on mutual understanding, respect and trust with the Aboriginal community in the lead up to 2015, the protest camp on Matagarup (Heirisson Island) may never have eventuated; or could have been promptly resolved without force and with positive outcomes for many of the individuals impacted.”

Instead, the council worked with police to confiscate camping gear, move on protesters, and in one case confiscated a large sacred stone not realising its significance. 

The report says since then the city’s committed to the reconciliation action plan, built strong relationships with the EAG and wider Aboriginal community “through ongoing and genuine engagement and action.

“The Danjoo-Treaty will further demonstrate the city’s intention to learn from the past and provide the guiding principles for how we will work together in our continuing reconciliation journey.”

By DAVID BELL

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