There are so many areas still to be addressed in closing those gaps

By Riverine Herald

VOICE. Treaty. Truth.

The theme of 2019 NAIDOC week is so poignant for Victoria’s Indigenous communities.

As we celebrate NAIDOC week, we do so against a backdrop of new opportunity as the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria begins to be established.

Every day I see more and more of our Indigenous people coming into leadership roles at all levels of community. It is overdue, but the celebration of it is important because our shared futures are going to be better for it. It is essential that the voices of our First People are heard and respected; that the stories are told and the wisdom is shared.

NAIDOC Week is a wonderful opportunity for us to celebrate all this and more.

NAIDOC Week is a celebration, but it is also a time to acknowledge and reflect. I continue to be very mindful that there are many areas in which we all need to continue working together for better shared outcomes.

The 2018 Victorian Government Aboriginal Affairs Report recently gave some sobering insight into Victoria’s progress on the Closing the Gap targets.

We are progressing in some areas but, like everyone, I’d like it to be faster, especially when it comes to education and health targets.

Providing the very best start in life for our kids is vital and must be prioritised.

I especially want to see that gap close when it comes to Aboriginal students’ reading, writing and numeracy skills.

In my ongoing discussions with Elders, communities and stakeholder groups, I’m keen to hear ideas for how government programs and initiatives can do more to help close this gap and give our littlest people the foundation skills they need to lead happy, healthy and self-determined lives.

Sharing knowledge and stories of the past as we work together for a shared future is so valuable.

In the past few years, I’ve been learning so much about our environment via the Return of the Firestick project.

We’ve been working closely with Indigenous communities in Regional Victoria to support the project and to share with our parliamentary colleagues and other stakeholders the messages of its many benefits.

This project is led by Indigenous communities, who share ancient cultural knowledge in order to deliver positive land management outcomes. They promote low-intensity ‘cool burns’ and are able to demonstrate how these techniques rejuvenate and protect our natural environments, and support our valued flora and fauna.

Only recently, I attended the National Indigenous Fire Workshop, held on Yorta Yorta country, at Barmah National Park on the banks of the Murray River.

It was a celebration of cultural fire knowledge and practice and brought to life the opportunities this project presents to collaborate and learn from the shared experience of traditional owners.

I would really like to see a Return of the Firestick project go to the next level here in Victoria, with dedicated State funding for lead staff, community interaction and a program of cool burns that can demonstrate the value and efficacy of this method.

Return of the Firestick is a true opportunity to promote healthy landscapes in Victoria and boost biodiversity, and to show the landscape management and leadership skills of our Indigenous people

This NAIDOC Week, I encourage everyone to be part of celebrating and recognising the history, culture and achievements of our Indigenous people and communities in Victoria.

Consider how you can contribute to Voice. Treaty. Truth. as we continue to work together for a shared future.

■ Member for Murray Plains and Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Peter Walsh