Michael Harding, a Taungurung person — with the land inclusive of Benalla — is one of nine north-east regional candidates to be announced for the First Peoples’ Assembly election, with voting set to open next week.
Mr Harding, who has worked full-time in cultural heritage for more than 15 years, as well as working as an indigenous artist for the past 15 years, said it was his involvement in human rights during the past three decades that inspired him to nominate for the assembly, which is the first step in Victoria’s treaty process.
“I suppose this is a continuation of that, I was chair and co-chair of the Aboriginal treaty working group for two years,” he said.
“And I’ve sat on several different government, state and local level boards.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot to give, and have a reasonably strategic mind.''
Mr Harding said he was interested, if successful in his nomination, to continue the conversation between the assembly and the Aboriginal community to see what ``they would want in the treaty framework."
“I’ve got an opinion of what I want to see, but equally others need their input, so we need to get back out to our community and talk to the mob and put that framework up,” he said.
Mr Harding is joined by eight other north-east region candidates, including Geraldine Atkinson, Professor Henry Atkinson, Matthew Atkinson, Natarsha Bamblett, Gregory James, Damien Kindred Saunders, Leanne Miller and Stephen J Walsh, with voters able to meet the candidates at several events around the region in the coming weeks.
Mr Harding believes this assembly, and the following treaty process, is an important first step in giving Aboriginal people their own say in their future.
``Yyou empower people, they’ll find a way to do things that suit their town, their community,” he said.
“We’re the First People. We’ve been denied that we lived here and owned these places, denied in all sorts of ways,” he said.
“We need to address that, and I don’t think we’ll stop pushing for it until it is addressed.
“Our elders and the generations before us have always fought for our right, and we are doing the same thing and we’re teaching our children to fight for our right and understand who they are.
“It would be nice for us, for the rest of Victoria, to become comfortable with things that have happened in the past, and that Aboriginals are here, and then we can move forward together.”
Mr Harding encouraged all Aboriginal people to get along to the upcoming forums to meet the candidates and exercise their right to vote.
“Well, it’s like anything, this is democratic, you have the right to vote,” he said.
“If you care about your rights, I personally think it’s a wise decision to come and find out about candidates to find the best person to represent you.
“It’s a closed election process – only for indigenous people, all you have to do is enrol and you can vote.
“Keep your eyes and ears open … and vote for someone to represent you.”
Mr Harding and the other candidates will be at the The Emmanuel Cooper OA Centre in Shepparton this Thursday, September 12 from 6pm to 8pm, as well as at Mansfield Library this Saturday, September 14 from 10am to noon.
Voting opens on Monday, September 16 and closes on Sunday, October 20. Details of all candidates who have nominated can be found at www.firstpeoplesvic.org/your-candidates and people can enrol to vote up until the final date of voting via www.firstpeoplesvic.org/enrol