Traditional owners reflect on milestone

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Tom ZaunmayrPilbara News
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Next Saturday will mark 10 years since the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi people were legally determined as the traditional owners of a vast expanse of land covering some of the region's most valuable towns, natural landmarks and mineral deposits.

The decision gave a stronger voice to the indigenous people in the region and has provided financial assistance, but has also strained relationships and tested the business nous of those in charge.

Ngarluma Aboriginal Corporation chairman Mervyn Lockyer said while he felt they still had to jump through hoops, the royalties had been of great benefit to the community.

"The Aboriginal people never really had a business sense, everything was shared between the people so there was no ownership there," he said.

"We haven't got much to offer besides the dirt, but at the end of the day when it comes down to it, what we're giving up comes back as cars and housing and all that.

"We're not the perfect group, we have our own in-house conflicts, but at the end of the day we all see one picture which we want to strive towards to be one people."

Mr Lockyer said the purchase of the Whim Creek Hotel, accommodation in Perth and a recent land use agreement involving the proposed Balla Balla port were among their biggest achievements.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Michael Woodley said the determination enabled the Yindjibarndi people to better manage their land in a business sense, but had also caused a split in their community.

"At the end of the day, money makes the world go around and we don't shy from the fact that we do this for money because you need it to develop the community," he said.

"What drew us apart was differing opinion - we wanted what we believed was a fair deal, others said this is all we will get and we don't want to lose it.

"So right now we are a community which is fractured.

"One time we were friends and family but we no longer see each other in that same way, and it's because of this issue we've had with this mining company."

Mr Woodley said he would love to see the Yindjibarndi people bring their differences to the table to talk, but believed he had exhausted all avenues for resolution.

Attorney General Michael Mischin said good governance and clear decision-making was imperative for native title corporations.

"The Native Title Act focuses on recognition of native title but does not address how those rights should be managed following a determination and, regrettably, Commonwealth Government support for native title holders has not been forthcoming," he said.

Mr Mischin said seeking partnerships with the State Government could help groups better realise their aspirations.

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