About 9,000 claimants will benefit from the Indigenous Land Use Agreement. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
In an Australian first, a native title group in Western Australia has been awarded both native title recognition and a $450 million economic package comprising cash and assets to empower traditional owners.
- The Yamatji Nation native title claim covers nearly 48,000 square kilometres in WA’s Midwest region
- The declaration comes alongside an Indigenous Land Use Agreement, with a $450 million economic package to enhance opportunities for Yamatji people
- The outcome took more than 20 years of negotiations, with four overlapping claim groups uniting last year as the Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Agreement
The Yamatji Nation Claim covers a landmass of nearly 48,000 square kilometres in WA’s Midwest region from as far north as Kalbarri, east to Yalgoo and south to Dalwallinu.
Today’s determination was made in an emotional on-Country Federal Court hearing in Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, where traditional owners met with Justice Debra Mortimer.
It is the first time both native title recognition and an Indigenous Land Use Agreement have been determined simultaneously.
Negotiations were supported by the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, with consultant anthropologists playing an important role in negotiations for the settlement package.
CEO Simon Hawkins said the organisation had been involved in intense negotiation for the past two years.
“Today is going to be a very special day that’s going to be celebrated widely by approximately 9,000 traditional owners,” he 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 proceedings in Geraldton were attended by many, with those representing their claim groups sitting front and centre. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
Justice Mortimer acknowledged the Aboriginal elders who did not live to see the determination.
“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.”
She described the process of the Yamatji Nation Claim as long and challenging.
“Every determination of native title that exists is important,” she said.
“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.”
Mullewa Wadjari traditional owner Glenda Jackamarra was one of many to sign the Indigenous Land Use Agreement. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim)
What does this mean
As native title holders, the Yamatji Nation will now hold non-exclusive possession rights over parts of the former Barnong, Menai Hills and Kadji Kadji pastoral leases, as well as land parcels near the Wanda Nature Reserve, Lucky Bay and the Aboriginal Lands Trust areas in Carnamah, Kadathini and Eneabba.
It doesn’t give traditional owners the right to control access and use of an area, but it does allow them to access, hunt and camp on traditional country.
The Yamatji Nation claim covers nearly 48,000 square kilometres from as far north as Kalbarri, inland to Yalgoo and south to Dalwallinu. (Supplied: Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation)
A conservation estate will be created with joint vesting and joint management opportunities to empower traditional owners to be able to care for their country, which means there will be more opportunities for indigenous ranger programs in the region.
Mr Hawkins said this would provide more employment opportunities for Aboriginal people.
“The beauty about that is that there will be joint management opportunities plus ranger initiatives,” he said.
“So 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.”
State Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said the Indigenous Land Use Agreement would provide many economic benefits to the Aboriginal and broader community.
“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.”
Minister Ben Wyatt said the Indigenous Land Use Agreement would provide many economic benefits to the Aboriginal and broader community. (ABC Midwest and Wheatbelt: Laura Meachim )
Landmark moment in native title history
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said the determination was an important one for Indigenous Australians.
“Today is significant because you celebrate not only the legacy of the past but you set a legacy of the future,” he said.
“In which the young people, who are part of our families and our lives, are being given an opportunity to have a pathway that is much better and much stronger than what ours was back in the early ’50s and ’60s.”
“It gives, through this determination, traditional owners a place at the table.
“You are no longer sitting outside waiting for a decision, you are co-developing, co-designing the future.
“In all development that you do on the land, which you now own, it is your land.”
Competing claims cause delays
The claim was started in 1996 and has been described by the Federal Court as “long and challenging” due to several different groups making overlapping claims.
In February 2016, mediation was convened by a judicial registrar of the Federal Court of Australia, resulting in the outstanding overlaps being resolved and the commencement of negotiations with the State Government.
Last year, more than 1,000 claimants, from four different claim groups came together creating the Yamatji Nation Southern Regional Agreement, which brought together the underlying claims of Southern Yamatji, Hutt River, Mullewa Wadjari and Widi Mob.
Ben Wyatt said the outcome marked a brave decision by the Aboriginal community.
“I think most people who follow the native title space will know the Midwest has been a particularly contentious area for a long period of time amongst the Aboriginal groups themselves,” he said.
“So when they made the decision for the single claim, I think [it was] a brave, strong decision by the local Aboriginal people here to be unified in their approach to the State Government.
“I took this to Cabinet on numerous occasions for conversation and discussion and I think the Cabinet very easily made this decision around what will be, I think, world class and certainly national-leading around native title.”
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