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Australia World

Noongar elders are collecting funds to defend traditional rights and culture

PERTH: The indigenous people of Australia have since colonization, waited for equal rights and justice to be served to their community. Almost two hundred years later, many of them are still waiting.

In 1993, when the Native Title Act was passed, it appeared that the traditional rights of Australia’s first people, would finally be recognized. The Act however was an illusory ‘bundle of rights’ created to regulate traditional laws and customs and allow for business contracts between indigenous elders and mining corporations.

By 1998 the Native Title Act was amended to include provision for “Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).” The ILUAs are especially convenient for mining companies, governments and those wanting high levels of contractual security in business negotiations with Native title groups. Once registered, it is unlike a regular contract, as it binds several native title groups, regardless if they want to be bound or if they signed or not. In the past, this made it easy for industry to expedite exploration by getting just one or two members to sign on behalf of the native group, often without even notifying all the registered claimants.

However, community elders in Western Australia’s south west region, refused to sign off on four of the six ILUAs. These elders filed the McGlade application in court against the National Native Title Tribunal, The Federal Government, the State Government as well as the South West land and Sea Council. These organizations had been conducting authorization meetings throughout the country to get indigenous people to vote YES to the ILUAs terms.

Noongar elder Mingli Wanjurri McGlade was one of the elders who refused to sign. She spoke exclusively to The News Tribe, “They tried to intimidate us all into voting ‘yes’ on all the agreements. They gave 3 hour lectures in favour of the ‘yes’ vote. There was confusion, elders were not communicated the process clearly, some community members had no understanding of the legal consequences of the vote or their signatures because elders are simple people. The government approach was very coercive. They shouted at us during various meetings, we were not allowed to discuss voting NO on the agreements.”

Naomi Smith Noongar woman who is also part of the court application told us, “It’s like being forced to sell your house for less than 10% market value of what it is worth and you can’t say no. Then the money for the purchase go into a body corporate trust to be managed by the government, because you are not capable to manage the funds. For this they want us to revoke all our land rights and culture.”

By 2017, The elders won the McGlade case in the Federal Court, which held that if a single member of the registered native title claimant (RNTC) withholds their consent to execute an ILUA the agreement cannot be registered despite authorization of the agreement by all persons who hold or may hold native title within the area of the ILUA.

After the McGlade victory though, the Federal Government made an appeal.

“We won but the Federal Government appealed and over turned the Federal Court decision after 2 weeks. They got it done quickly because the mining companies pressured them. Everything has been taken away from us. We want rights and we want our land so we can have alcohol and drug free communities and make people go there for healing. They want us to sign that we will no longer practice our traditional culture, and allow the mining companies to do what they like.”

“After the decision was over turned we had to appeal again. We cannot just allow one or two claimants to sign off on behalf of the entire ILUA community group, because this allows for corruption and discord between the community. Government likes to divide and conquer. This is about justice and to stop treating us like we can’t take care of ourselves,” Mingli McGlade said. She continued, “It’s going to be hard because we have no funds and look who we are up against. Our lawyers aren’t charging us, but we still need to pay for their travel costs and accommodation, and other expenses. If we win this appeal it will be final and no one can appeal this case again. We need help to raise funds to fight this case against the State because they want to legally rob us of our rights and culture.”

In 2015, the West Australian government struck a deal to extinguish Noongar Native Title rights forever. Successful registration of these Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) would mean that half of Western Australia’s Aboriginal population will no longer have native title rights and Noongar native title will be extinguished forever.

This extinguishment by the West Australian Government would leave our precious Country vulnerable to mining and fracking. It removes our right to negotiate on any future development forever.

Naomi Smith further said, “We urge the international community to urgently help us in our case against the Federal and State Government in Australia by donating and funding the Noongar not for Sale GoFundMe campaign, and creating awareness about it. The court hearing is in April so the matter is extremely urgent.”

The indigenous people of Australia are even today, marginalized and racially vilified across the country, incarceration rates are high, and youth are constantly subjected to abuse. It is time for change. It is time for Australia to take off the mask that covers its racist face.

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