Cause to come home
13 February 2012
Yindjibarndi Federal Court winOn 12 February, Federal Court Justice, Neil McKerracher, handed down a decision that validated the vote of the Yindjibarndi people to authorise a new and unified Applicant group of twelve Yindjibarndi men and women to run the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim—this includes the Area of vacant crown land where Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) is developing the Solomon Hub and ‘Firetail’ mine.
The conditions that were attached to the authorization means that these Applicants must also act in concert with the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC), and get YAC’s written consent for any agreement that affects the Claim Area.
In essence Justice McKerracher said that the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation conducted an orderly authorisation meeting, which was supported by thorough genealogies, an independent chair, fair opportunity for the participation of all members and their legal representatives, and a video recording of the entire meeting that demonstrated such.
Justice McKerracher said he was most mindful to ensure the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim can now be progressed in a well-ordered and efficient manner, and concluded that the appointment of the new twelve-member Applicant, elected by the majority of Yindjibarndi people on 24 March 2012, would achieve this end.
The new Applicant group of six men and six women unequivocally supports the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation as the chosen representative institution and Prescribed Body Corporate for the Yindjibarndi People; they applaud YAC for not caving in to the ‘divide and conquer’ campaign of FMG; and for rejecting the land access agreement proposed by FMG, whose terms are ten-fold poorer than industry standards established by FMG’s resource sector peers—and which have been roundly condemned, not least by lawyers and consultants paid by FMG.
The effect of this decision is that the division sponsored by FMG in the original Applicant group, for the purpose of tying up all Yindjibarndi native title in a land access agreement, is finished—because that Applicant group is dissolved by order of the Court.
The two lady applicants on the FMG side of the division, who challenged the majority vote of the 24 March meeting, and sought to remove the other five members of the original Applicant group (including centenarian Ned Cheedy), can no longer be used by FMG to obstruct the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation in making decisions for the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim.
If FMG wants a land access agreement over any part of that area, it must now deal with YAC.
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO, Michael Woodley, said, “We have said many times over, YAC is willing to come back to the negotiating table as long as Fortescue acts with respect for our people and our country; and offers compensation for the disruption and damage their project is bringing on our country, that does not insult us.”
Mr Woodley, said he spoke for a very happy community, “Today we all breath a little easier, a big burden has been lifted from our shoulders. This is cause for those members who followed FMG, to come home. That is the first thought of the YAC leadership and why we celebrate today—we have a chance to re-unify our families.
“We believe that some of our elders were misled by FMG, but we still respect them, and our greatest wish is that they and their families join us in the important work ahead.
“The best outcome is that we can now turn our energies and resources to the development and support of our people. It’s a new chapter in our history and YAC is honoured by the opportunity to govern the vision laid down by our people, old people especially.”
Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation’s In-House Legal Counsel, George Irving, said that Justice McKerracher’s decision “describes the careful measures taken by YAC to ensure fair and democratic procedures were used to authorise the new Applicant”; and, that those procedures stand in stark contrast to the ones used the previous year by FMG and the Wirlu-Murra Group.
He said he was “confident that, notwithstanding the Court victory against the Wirlu-Murra, YAC will continue to invite the Wirlu-Murra members and all Yindjibarndi people to participate in negotiations about anything that affects their spiritual home”.
Mr Woodley stressed that members of YAC and WMYAC alike, “are common custodians of spiritually powerful and beautiful country that is alive with Law. We should never forget the words of Sylvie Allan’s deceased husband, Allan Jacob, because his words matter more now than when he spoke them in 1987:
‘We got Law in our hand, we didn’t lost it, we still got it, the Yindjibarndi people still got it, like that, we grip that thing. A lot of lands been broken for Aboriginal people but we Yindjibarndi people standing for one, we are all one, we are helping one another, doesn’t matter where we come from, we are all one. We want our Law to stand, we want to teach our kids and that’s all’.
“Finally, when the people voted last March, they voted for thirteen men and women. In April last year we lost our shining light, Mr Ned Cheedy. On this day I pay tribute to the old fella, Mayaringbungu, for guiding us on this long hard journey to secure the right to protect Yindjibarndi country and culture, our communities, our people and future generations—our birth-right.
“And I want to thank our strong Yindjibarndi elders and leadership, our passionate staff and professional legal team, and all our supporters at home and across the nation — you are true believers and inspire us.”