Thursday, December 2, 2021

From eviction to genocide, the Yu-Rook Justice Commission sets a new standard for telling the truth

There can be no treaty without truth.

This simple but powerful statement is the reason for the U-Rook Justice Commission’s mandate to reveal, record and analyze the systemic injustices experienced by Victorian First Peoples since colonialism.

Named from the word Wamba Wamba meaning truth, the U-Rook mandate will be for three years from 2021-24. This is an important step in telling the truth in Victoria.

Truth-telling commissions are formal bodies tasked with discovering and uncovering past wrongdoing in the hope of resolving conflict and repairing relationships.



Read more: Victoria’s truth-telling commission: to move forward, we must answer to the legacy of colonialism


U-Rook’s strategic vision is for a transformed Victoria. Victoria, based on truth and justice, is based on the enduring spirit of First Peoples, cultures and self-determination.

As with any other royal commission, the U-Rook would have broad powers to hold public hearings, compel evidence, and make recommendations to the Victorian government on what should be changed.

The Letters of Commission Patent is the legal document of the Governor-General establishing the Imperial Commission of U-Roc. This document essentially instructs U-Rook on how to examine the experience of systemic injustices past and present for Victorian First Peoples.

U-Rook Justice Commission logo.

The letter details a broad set of patent obligations which can be summarized as:

  • Establishing an authoritative record of the impact of systemic injustice on the first people of Victoria from colonialism to the present

  • Develop a shared understanding among all Victorians on the impact of these systemic injustices as well as the diversity, strength and resilience of First Peoples

  • Determining the causes and consequences of systemic injustice and making recommendations for system reform and changes in laws, policy and education.

The Commission’s findings are intended to support the establishment of a new relationship between the First People, the State and the people of Victoria, including to inform treaty negotiations.

People standing outside
Victoria’s U-Rook Justice Commissioner (LR) Kevin Bell, Maggie Walter, Eleanor Bourke, Wayne Atkinson and Sue-Anne Hunter.
U-Rook Justice Commission/AAP

Establishment of U-Rook Justice Commission

A historic first for Australia, a truth-telling commission was an agreed action of the Victorian Government and the First People’s Assembly of Victoria.

The first People’s Assembly was established in 2019 and is an elected representative body of traditional owners and other Victorian Aboriginal peoples. This is a significant step forward in achieving the Treaty Process with the Aboriginal Victorian Act 2018.

U-Rook began in May with the appointment of five commissioners. Independently selected from 64 applicants, we are:

  • Chair: Professor Eleanor Bourke (Vergia / Wamba Wamba)
  • Dr. Wayne Atkinson (Yorta Yorta / Deja Deja Vurung)
  • Sue-Anne Hunter (Wurundjeri/Ngurai Ilum Wurung)
  • Distinguished Professor Maggie Walter (Palava)
  • Professor Honorable Kevin Bell AM QC (Non-Indigenous)

U-Rook employs a human rights framework that is consistent with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. To ensure First People’s voice and knowledge priority, this framework is enacted through a methodology that weaves together First People’s knowledge systems, worldviews and Western methods of scientific analysis. This methodology ensures an approach that respects Victorian First People’s values ​​and culture.

The Commission’s terms of reference are extensive.

Directives to investigate historical systemic injustices committed against First Peoples include (among other areas):

  • cultural violations, such as the denial of the law and learning of the First Peoples by the authorities and systems of the colonial state

  • Theft and misappropriation of land and culture

  • Eviction and displacement of tribal people, families and children

  • Massacres, Wars and Murders

  • Inappropriate policies and practices in areas such as labor, the justice system, child protection and welfare, and health care

The findings of the royal commission’s inquiry into these areas will form the basis of official records, with more details to come.

Priority #1: Sovereignty over Knowledge

U-Rook is the first tribal-led royal commission. It is also the first in which the fundamental evidence is First People’s Voices, Stories and Wisdom. The Commission has now set four strategic priorities for its first year.

To maximize participation, U-Rook’s first strategic priority is to build a strong foundation to bring confidence that First People’s voices will be heard, and that the Commission’s processes are conducted in a culturally appropriate manner.

Despite the COVID-19 lockdown of the past six months, commissioners and commission staff have consulted (mostly online) with traditional owner groups and several Aboriginal community-controlled organizations across Victoria.

Yu-Rook is instructed to retain the sovereignty of the First People over their knowledge and stories. This will be done through indigenous data sovereignty principles, which is the right of people first to own, control, access and hold their respective data.

This means that the first people who provide evidence to U-Rook will retain ownership of their respective data, determining how their information is treated with respect to confidentiality and accessibility.

This is important because as with previous royal commissions, the evidence is available to the public. It is not always in the best interest of the First People.

Priority #2: Culturally Appropriate Methods of Evidence Gathering

U-Rook’s second strategic priority is to focus on formal evidence collection Elders and those who are unwell.

The Commission is fully aware of the discomfort of First Peoples towards such formal procedures. Therefore, culturally safe systems have been developed.

For example, the Commission is accepting evidence regarding the experience of historical and ongoing systemic injustice in a myriad of ways. These include individual witness statements, group testimony and testimony through cultural means such as ceremony, dance and art. Evidence can also be given confidentially and over the country, with ongoing support for social and emotional well-being.

Priority #3: Creating a Public Record of Systemic Injustice

The third strategic priority is to develop a comprehensive picture of the systemic injustice against First Peoples as part of the official record of what happened in Victoria.

This will be done through the compilation and inquiry of existing knowledge sources. The work began with the collection of official records, academic studies and legislative material.

Priority #4: Reviewing the Criminal Justice System

The fourth priority is to review current reform processes in criminal justice and law enforcement.

It will begin with an examination of the First People’s experiences with these systems and the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Victoria.

setting a global precedent

The work of the U-Rook Justice Commission is intimidating and the time frame is short. U-Rook is required to submit an interim report in June 2022 and a final report in June 2024.

It is the only truth-telling commission authorized to investigate past and present systemic injustices arising out of colonialism, past and present, people’s experiences.

U-Rook’s initiation in Victoria should be a matter of pride for all Victorians. The Commission is setting a national and global precedent. Because U-Rook is the first, it certainly won’t be the last.

The world is watching.


If you are interested in accessing the commission, you can do so here.

This article is republished from – The Conversation – Read the – original article.

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