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Issue #1827      June 20, 2018

Fight for Country

Yindjibarndi Traditional Owners takes a swipe at Forrest

“He makes billions and billions of dollars from our murra, our country, that he destroyed, wrecked. They wrecked our sacred sites. Our country is wrecked. But you know what? It never stopped us Yindjibarndi people from fighting for our country.”

With these words – part of her story of her people’s fight for exclusive native title – Yindjibarndi woman Margaret Read summed up the conflict with one of Australia’s biggest iron ore miners, Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) over land in the Pilbara.

Ms Read, deputy chair of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, was one of many Traditional Owners who spoke at the National Native Title Conference, held in Broome, Yawuru country, last week, with the theme “Many laws, one country”.

The Yindjibarndi’s native title case has pitted family against family.

It has seen a rich mining company, FMG, back a breakaway group, the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (WMYAC), and use numerous legal tactics to try and block the claims of the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC).

There have been claims, overlapping claims and counter claims by other Aboriginal groups.

In 2003 YAC’s non-exclusive rights to their traditional lands were recognised. But since that time they’ve faced court case after court case to have their exclusive rights recognised.

But, finally, in July last year, the Yindjibarndi people were granted exclusive native title rights to their country – including the area where the Solomon iron ore mine is situated, owned by FMG, the mining company founded by billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.

“It was the most joyous, happiest occasion for the Yindjibarndi nation,” Ms Read said.

“Our people were so happy because it meant we could go back and live on our country again. And then we have a squatter who comes and mines on our country. This squatter gave away $457 million last year. And what did he want to pay us when we had some negotiation with him? He wanted to pay us a one-off $4 million cap.”

FMG appealed the YAC’s native title decision, with the case due to be heard later this year by a full bench of the Federal Court.

“He thought he could come in, conquer and divide. But he didn’t conquer us Yindjibarndi people. He divided our families,” Ms Read said.

“The division caused Yindjibarndi people against Yindjibarndi people. To this day, it causes such a rift in our community, our tribe.

“This squatter caused hatred among our people. We were all divided by this one person – and the other people hated the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal corporation and its members for standing up and being strong. He caused fear. Some of our old people were too frightened to go out and about because they thought they’d be verbally and physically abused, which some of them were.

“We, as Yindjibarndi people, don’t really care about money. All we really care about is getting our murra, our country, back.”

In the 1950s and ‘60s, Yindjibarndi people were forced off their land, with many people made to live in Roebourne.

“For our ancestors, having to go and reside in another man’s country was quite difficult,” Ms Read said.

“We are a proud, strong nation – to live in exile on someone else’s country was a very sad moment for us.”

On its website FMG, describes the Solomon hub as comprising of two iron ore mines, which together have the capacity to produce 70-75 million tonnes per annum.

In 2015, Federal Court Judge Stephen Rares found FMG had provided support and resources to WMYAC, who were trying to convince Yindjibarndi people to take a $4 million deal with FMG.

Fortescue had also awarded millions of dollars worth of contracts on its Solomon hub to the Eastern Guruma and Wirlu Murra Aboriginal corporations.

FMG has yet to pay any money to YAC.

“This squatter, he continues to make billions and billions of dollars on our land – but he refuses to pay any rent to us,” Ms Read said.

“But we don’t care – we are people who care for our land.

“We are proud to be Yindjibarndi.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Taking Issue – Intervene in the “Intervention”

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