Ongoing attempts to undermine native title in Australia’s Kimberley region have been highlighted in a new Oxfam global report pushing for the land rights of Indigenous peoples across the world.
The Custodians of the land, Defenders of our future report highlights a global land rush that is forcing millions of Indigenous people from their homelands.
According to the report, Kimberley Aboriginal people face a situation where Western Australian Government policy and action is actively seeking to weaken rights to native title.
Threats include the forced closure of remote Aboriginal communities, which will disconnect people from their land, the weakening of laws that protect sacred cultural sites, the undermining of successful carbon offset projects and moves to force Indigenous peoples to give up their land rights by creating new conservation reserves.
Oxfam Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Program Manager Justin McCaul said the Kimberley was the only region within a highly developed nation represented in the report, which is part of the ongoing Land Rights Now campaign.
“Australia is a rich and developed nation, yet we are in some ways less supportive of Indigenous land rights than some developing nations,”Mr McCaul said. And as the KLC experience highlights, there is a tendency to violate and undermine the rights of Indigenous peoples.
“The Kimberley case study is an example of the continuous struggle that Aboriginal people face to not only achieve native title, but maintain those rights.
“Strong land rights are vital for the development of economic opportunities for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, which are key to ending inequality.”
The Kimberley Land Council has been the peak native title body for the region since it formed in 1978 to fight for the land rights of Aboriginal people.
KLC Chief Executive Nolan Hunter said that after almost four decades fighting for the recognition of land rights, discriminatory actions were preventing Aboriginal people from fully exercising their rights.
“The real issue we are facing is that state land administration does not recognise native title,” Mr Hunter said.
“Indigenous people have looked after country for thousands of years and we must be supported to do this through Indigenous protected areas and sole Indigenous land management.
“With a state election looming in March, now is the time for politicians to listen to Indigenous voices to strengthen and protect our right to manage native title once and for all.”