WA Indigenous group gets land and funds
A native title group in Western Australia has been awarded both native title recognition and a $450 million economic package in an Australian first.
The Yamatji Nation Claim covers nearly 48,000 square kilometres of land in WA's Midwest region, from Kalbarri in the far north to Yalgoo in the east and south to Dalwallinu.
In an emotional on-Country Federal Court hearing in Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, Justice Debra Mortimer has granted traditional owners both native title recognition and an Indigenous Land Use Agreement simultaneously.
It is the first time in Australian history that both have been awarded at the same time.
The result comes after more than 20 years of negotiations, which saw four overlapping claim groups unite as the Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Agreement last year.
Justice Mortimer acknowledged that many Aboriginal elders who began the process did not live to see its conclusion.
“It is their struggles and their knowledge and their dedication which has inspired and sustained you all on this path towards the agreed outcome that is being recognised today,” she said.
“And on behalf of the court, I want to acknowledge all people of the Yamatji nation, I acknowledge you as first nations peoples of this country.
“Every determination of native title that exists is important.
“The recognition given by determination of native title, for those who have long been denied any recognition by Australian law of their deep and abiding connection to their country is a step in the struggle of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to regain what was taken away from them.
“This particular determination might be said to have special significance because of the widespread physical dispossession of the people of the Yamatji nation from their lands.
“They have truly driven negotiations, and because of the unity shown by all groups within the Yamatji Nation, to the future that is shared with strength and pride between them as a single people united by a system of traditional law and custom, which continues and to which they are so obviously committed to protecting and nurturing.”
The Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation supported the negotiations and a team of consultant anthropologists played an important role in determining the settlement package.
“Today is going to be a very special day that's going to be celebrated widely by approximately 9,000 traditional owners,” the group’s CEO Simon Hawkins said.
“It is unusual in the sense that this is an alternative settlement of native title but it also has a determination with it, so it is the only one of its kind in Australia.”
The determination gives the Yamatji Nation non-exclusive possession rights over parts of the former Barnong, Menai Hills and Kadji Kadji pastoral leases, and land parcels near the Wanda Nature Reserve, Lucky Bay, as well as Aboriginal Lands Trust areas in Carnamah, Kadathini and Eneabba.
The traditional owners do not have the right to control access and use of an area, but can access, hunt and camp on traditional country.
Funding will also be used to create a conservation estate with joint vesting and joint management opportunities for traditional owners to care for their country, including through indigenous ranger programs.
“They will be able to have resourcing to look after those conservation estates so local Aboriginal people will be employed to assist in the land management of those estates,” Mr Hawkins said.
WA’s Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the Indigenous Land Use Agreement would be a big economic boost.
“In summary, the agreement, worth over $400 million, includes a cash component, the transfer of commercial land to the Yamatji nation, joint ventures, tourism opportunities and access to housing props for sale, leasing or development,” he said.
“There are revenue streams from mining, and from leasing or the sale of land located on the Oakajee industrial estate, as well as a strategic Aboriginal water reserve for use, for lease or for trade.
“To ensure Traditional Owners are able to take full advantage of these benefits, the agreement also provides for a business development unit to help Yamatji people and corporations establish or develop your own businesses.
“The unit will assess the feasibility of business ideas and, if viable, provide assistance to develop business plans and tailor start-up support.”