A meeting of 500 First Nations representatives voted on February 3 to reject Constitutional recognition and to begin talks on self-determination and a treaty with the Victorian government.
The proposed treaty would be a legal document covering Aboriginal affairs and services and addressing past injustices. It would be the first such agreement in Australia and follows similar arrangements with First Peoples in Canada, the US and New Zealand.
Dja Dja Warrung elder Gary Murray said the national debate around Constitutional recognition was just "a distraction".
“Of course we want to get rid of racist Constitutional issues and racist laws," he said. "So what we do is park it in a treaty process and there's a chapter in a treaty just on that sort of aspect.
"It shouldn't be the main game. The main game is sovereignty and reparations for all the injustice. I think we need to be ready for a long process."
In 1835, Melbourne's founder John Batman produced a “treaty” with the Wurundjeri people, covering land from Geelong to Melbourne. Batman claimed the Wurundjeri people signed over the land in exchange for axes, flour and other goods.
However, the agreement was almost immediately overturned by the overseeing colonial government of the area, New South Wales colonial governor Sir Richard Bourke.
Gunai elder Robbie Thorpe said: "The problem with Batman's treaty was he had no authority. He wasn't a sovereign, there wasn't a sovereign to do the business."
Thorpe said there were also doubts as to whether the Wurundjeri people knew what they were signing or if they actually even signed the document at all.
"Some people say he was just a fraud, that he wrote the document himself. There's just placement of the community's signatures and that it was done on a fraudulent basis," he said.
Murray says the treaty should include:
• Recognition of past injustices;
• Recognition of all 39 First Nations and their clan authority;
• Recognition of and respect for country, traditions and customs;
• A future fund to implement the treaty;
• Establishment of a democratic treaty commission;
• Land rights and land acquisition legislation and funding; and
• Fresh water and sea water rights.