In June 2018, the land councils of the Northern Territory and the Northern Territory Government met with Indigenous Elders and community members in the remote community of Barunga to discuss treaty and land rights.
At this meeting, the Central Land Council, the Tiwi Land Council, the Northern Land Council, and the Anindilyakwa Land Council voted to empower their chairmen to sign the Barunga Agreement with the Northern Territory Government (Northern Land Council, 2018).
This Agreement paves the way for consultations to begin with Indigenous people and communities in the Northern territory regarding treaty. The Agreement is the result of extensive discussions and negotiations between the Government and the four Land Councils.
Significantly, the Agreement was signed on the first day of the Barunga Sport and Cultural Festival, exactly thirty years after the Barunga Statement was presented to the then Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who never fulfilled his promise of Treaty to the Barunga people made decades before.
Under the terms of the Agreement, the Northern Territory Government appointed Professor Mick Dodson as an independent Indigenous Treaty Commissioner. In 2019, Professor Dodson commenced leading consultations with Indigenous people, communities, and organisations across the Northern Territory to develop a framework for Treaty negotiations (Northern Territory Treaty Commission, 2020).
Under the Agreement, the parties acknowledged the following principles:
1. It is envisaged that should a Treaty ultimately be negotiated, it will be the foundation of lasting reconciliation between the First Nations of the Territory and other citizens with the object of achieving a united Northern Territory.
2. All Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory need to be heard and the consultation process agreed to in this MOU needs to be inclusive, accessible and transparent to all.
3. Traditional owners, as the original owners and occupiers of the Northern Territory, and represented by the Aboriginal Land Councils, are integral to consultation concerning a treaty.
4. All Territorians should ultimately benefit from any Treaty that is agreed in the Northern Territory.
5. The NTG must not exclude from discussions any legitimate issue raised by the Parties or other Aboriginal people for inclusion in a Treaty while the consultation process agreed to in the MOU is underway.
6. It is agreed that:
a) Aboriginal people, the First Nations, were the prior owners and occupiers of the land, seas, and waters that are now called the Northern Territory of Australia.
b)The First Nations of the Northern Territory were self-governing in accordance with their traditional laws and customs; and that
c) First Nations peoples of the Northern Territory never ceded sovereignty of their lands, seas, and waters.
7. It is also agreed there has been deep injustice done to the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory, including violent dispossession, the repression of their languages and cultures, and the forcible removal of children from their families, which have left a legacy of trauma, and loss that needs to be addressed and healed.
8. The Treaty must provide for substantive outcomes and honour the Articles of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
9. Recognising that a Treaty is of much wider significance than a normal agreement between the State and Indigenous peoples, it is also recognised that Treaty making involves the acceptance of responsibilities and obligations by all parties;
10. The Treaty should aim to achieve successful co-existence between all Territorians that starts with 'truth telling' which involves hearing about, acknowledging and understanding the consequences of the Northern Territory's history.
(The Northern Territory Government, 2018, p.6)