How can I talk to children about Treaty and the Voice?
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How can I talk to children about Treaty and the Voice?

by Freya Lucas

July 05, 2023

The article below, kindly shared by the Victorian Inclusion Agency, offers some background and context about two upcoming discussions of significance for First Nations people, and for Australia more broadly –  the Treaty (in Victoria) and the proposed (national) Voice to Parliament, and some suggestions about how these complex topics may be discussed with children. 


Not so long ago, it would be rare to find education and care settings in Victoria that were able to engage in a meaningful way with First Nations content, and help introduce children to the rich history and culture of First Nations people. Nowadays things are changing rapidly.


Every day we are seeing more and more early and middle childhood services incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives into their curriculum. Educators are forming connections with their local Aboriginal community and inviting community representatives in to give talks and lead activities. Children are going home to their families full of curiosity, asking questions about Aboriginal people. Children are even teaching their families a thing or two!


In the spirit of these positive changes, we asked Aunty Geraldine Atkinson to tell us about two of the most important things that are happening for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people right now: the Treaty (in Victoria) and the proposed (national) Voice to Parliament.


Aunty Geraldine is a Bangerang and Wiradjuri woman, the President of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI) and the former Co-chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria, which is the body that oversees the Treaty development process on behalf of Aboriginal communities across the state. Aunty Geraldine is also a grandmother to nine children.


We asked Aunty Geraldine how we could speak to children about Treaty and the Voice – and did she deliver. This is a conversation between Aunty Geraldine and her youngest grandchild Vivian (aged six years)…


Vivian: What is a Treaty?


Aunty Geraldine: A Treaty is an agreement between two parties. One is the government, the other is Aboriginal people. The government has agreed we are going to have Treaties, so Aboriginal people can talk to government about what we want to do with our lives.


V: What kind of parties will they have?


AG: Not the kind of parties you are thinking of. I will explain the work that Nan has been doing with Treaty.

I was the Co-Chair of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. We are a democratically elected body – which means that people voted for us to be in these positions.

What we had to do was set up a process for getting Treaty here in Victoria. We had to get the Treaty process outlined in an Act of Parliament, which went through legislation. Government had to agree, which they did, and it went through both Houses of Parliament.


V: Why?


AG: We wanted to be able to have a say in our official business. For over 230 years, Aboriginal people have been told by government what we should do and how we should live.

You know at the mission, at Cummeragunja? You have been fishing there. Well, a long time ago, government decided that they would put Aboriginal people on missions. That was because they didn’t know they would fit in with the rest of the population. And government made lots of awful rules for Aboriginal people.

Like your great-grandmother, my mother, did you know she was only able to go to school up to grade three? And she never learned to read or write.

On the mission, they would take children away if they thought they were being neglected, or didn’t dress cleanly, or brush their hair, have the right food, all sorts of things. They would take the children off the parents and put them in homes.

So my mother’s mother swam from one side of the river to the other, with all of her children, so that they couldn’t take her children away.

Aboriginal people couldn’t buy food – we had to get rations from the manager. We had to ask the manager permission to go to hospital. Rules were made for us all the time and that happened for a lot of years.


V: That is like something I learned about the olden days. I learned that it wasn’t fair. Girls couldn’t play basketball in schools and they got really sad and boys couldn’t play with dolls.


AG: Yes, well that’s not fair either.

There will be traditional local Treaties and one big state-wide Treaty. And we are going to be able to talk to government about what we want. How we can make things better in schools, like more culturally aware teachers.

We want to look at how government has put programs in place, like the justice system, where they lock lots of Aboriginal kids and women up for minor offences. If they commit a lot of minor offences they break their bail conditions and then have to be put in jail. We want more doctors and nurses working in jails. A lot of Aboriginal people have died in jail.

We want to work with businesses too, on plans for more employment of Aboriginal people. Like your cousin working at KFC – do you know they have an Aboriginal employment strategy? We want the Big Ws and the Kmarts. We want businesses to give scholarships.


V: Some Aboriginal kids were actually stolen by grown-ups.


AG: That’s true – we want to stop that happening. We want to stop Aboriginal kids being taken from their parents and put into foster care. That is happening a lot now, the numbers are huge.


V: Do Aboriginal kids go to the office?


AG: Yes, that happens, because teachers don’t understand them. They don’t understand what Aboriginal kids do and why they behave a certain way. With Treaty we are going to help stop that. Now I think I should tell you about the Voice. Should we talk about the Voice?


V: Yes.


AG: What we want is for Aboriginal people to have a strong Voice to talk to Parliament. Parliament at the federal level will know how to deal with issues that have bad impacts on Aboriginal people.

The government has worked on the wording of the Voice, and Aboriginal people have too. Nan sits on the Referendum Working Group.

What people have to understand is that we are not making things any different for people who aren’t Aboriginal. We just want Aboriginal people to have better lives, not have to deny their history, be proud, be well educated, know who they are.

The Voice will speak for the whole Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. We will be represented at all levels: local, regional, national.

Everyone over 18 will be able to vote for the Voice. If they think that the Voice is a good idea, then they will vote ‘Yes’. And we will get that Voice to Parliament. Aboriginal people will have a say. We will have Aboriginal history and culture in schools. And strong Aboriginal men and women.

We want to make sure as you grow up that you get to learn in school about Aboriginal language because we had lots and lots of languages and we want [children like you] to learn about them in schools.

And Aboriginal kids won’t be sent to the office. Does that sound good?


V: Yes.


AG: We are only three per cent of the population, so we need that other 97 per cent to be our allies. We need people to talk about the Voice at their dinner parties and barbecues and when they are with their friends.

And children, they are learning about Aboriginal culture in school, they are acknowledging Country and learning things that their parents were never ever taught when they went to school. 

So children are coming home and talking to their parents and that’s what they should do. Because they are the ones who are going to make this a better country.


V: When I grow up I want to be three things.

I want to be an Aboriginal culture person.

I want to be a person who talks about things that aren’t fair.

I want to be a woman.


AG: Yes, and you want to be a proud Aboriginal woman.




Are you speaking about Treaty or the Voice at your service? If you’re not sure where to start, or children are asking questions and you don’t know what to say, register for this free webinar with Aunty Geraldine Atkinson on Thursday July 6 at 12 pm.


This article originally appeared in Embrace, a free magazine for educators, teachers, coordinators and directors. Embrace magazine is published by the Victorian Inclusion Agency.

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