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Issue #1749      September 21, 2016

Talking treaties

Strong united voice

Representatives from 46 First Nations from across the Murray Darling Basin met in Canberra last month to discuss Aboriginal water rights and the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Long-necked turtle at Little Rushy Swamp, Barmah–Millewa Forest.

And they also discussed the possibility of making treaties with each other.

The gathering of delegates from the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations (MLDRIN) and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations (NBAN) released a water statement and called on all levels of government to urgently address the impacts on their culture, heritage and wellbeing arising from the management of water resources in the Murray Darling Basin.

MLDRIN acting chair Rene Woods, a Nari Nari man, said the gathering and the water statement highlighted the “strong, united voice of First Nations and the importance of water to our culture, country and livelihoods”.

“Our members have rights and responsibilities to care for the waterways of the Basin and build sustainable livelihoods that support our communities,” he said. “Yet, on a daily basis, we witness the degradation of our rivers from over-extraction, pollution, overregulation and management that favours powerful interests and lobby groups.”

NBAN chair Fred Hooper said First Nations people along the Darling River had grave concerns about the impacts of extraction of water and poor resource management practices on their cultural identity.

“This is just one example of the impacts faced by our membership on a daily basis,” he said. “If our rivers die, the very fabric of these ancient cultures is at risk.”

Hooper told the Koori Mail newspaper that the two biggest issues for NBAN had been the Murray Darling Basin Authority’s (MDBA) review of water allocations in the northern basin and the discussions around creating treaties.

He said NBAN was meeting with the MDBA this week to discuss what impacts re-allocating water to irrigators might have on Aboriginal interests and whether, if they were giving less water to Aboriginal environmental outcomes, that might trigger financial compensation.

Hooper said NBAN and MLDRIN were made up of nearly 50 sovereign First Nations. “We talk First Nations – but we don’t always act First Nations,” he said. “Treaty would put our rights in an international form.

“All these nations that were here before Invasion, but we’re not actually bringing that into the 21st century, so for us to expect treaty with the English Crown or Australian Government then we also need to look at following international law and signing treaties between ourselves. We discussed what would treaty look like: Is it only about water, or could it include other trade or other aspects?”

The water statement released at the meeting calls on all governments in the Murray Darling Basin to:

  • Commit to implementing the findings from the National Cultural Flows Research Project;
  • Develop a legislative and policy reform process dedicated to addressing the historic dispossession of Sovereign First Nations from their rights and interests in water; and
  • Collaborate with NBAN and MLDRIN to develop mechanisms to allow sovereign First Nations to secure water entitlements for cultural, environmental and economic purposes, and to secure their cultural economy through access to water.

Koori Mail

Next article – Editorial – Long march continues

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