Ngarrindjeri treaty talks on hold for now

The Murraylands' first inhabitants will, someday, sign a treaty with the South Australian government.

When that will happen will depend heavily on the outcome of this Saturday's state election.

Labor would like to continue to negotiate treaties with each of the state's Aboriginal nations, including the Ngarrindjeri people, as it has been doing since December 2016.

But members of the Liberal Opposition – including Member for Hammond Adrian Pederick – have expressed strong doubts about the idea.

So, last month, Ngarrindjeri leaders signed an agreement committing the state government "to negotiate entry into a treaty in the future".

Such negotiations would depend on "the constraints of state and federal legislative ... frameworks" – in other words, whether both levels of government remain interested.

The agreement was signed by Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority chair Eunice Aston, lead negotiator Daryle Rigney, Luke Trevorrow, Grant Rigney and Derek Walker for the Ngarrindjeri; Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Kyam Maher for the government; lawyer Shaun Berg; and anthropologist Steve Hemming.

Daryle Rigney said a treaty was something that had to be done right, but that the negotiations had been constrained by the timing of the election.

The negotiating parties did not have enough time to reach a compromise when they disagreed about issues such as the treaty's main focus: whether it should be about practical outcomes or abstract concepts.

"There was a lengthy conversation around what kinds of services, what kinds of infrastructure – economic, social and cultural – are Ngarrindjeri wanting to talk about, and talking about what the state can do," he said.

Those things were important, he said, but Ngarrindjeri were not primarily interested in money.

Rather, he suggested, they wanted to be treated like equals in the negotiation: an independent nation, as they were when South Australia was colonised.

"Any successful treaty has to include a social and economic agenda, but a successful treaty doesn't necessarily mean compensation," he said.

"It's more about: how do you create a set of conditions where Indigenous peoples can grow their economy and reduce their reliance on government?

"What you're actually trying to do is continue the process of having Ngarrindjeri communities rebuild themselves."

In the end, only the Narungga people of the Yorke Peninsula secured a tangible outcome from the state government during the current term of government.

The Narungga Nation Aboriginal Corporation will receive government support as it builds capacity, the local economy and engagement; and Narungga-specific strategies on youth justice, housing, domestic violence, health, child protection, education and cultural studies will be rolled out.


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