Indigenous group ‘joyous’ over Native Title claim win

The Banjima people of Western Australia’s Pilbara region have won a Native Title claim covering over 10,000sqkm after a 15-year court battle.

The Native Title claim was brought to an end yesterday when a Federal Court handed down its decision to award the rights of the land to the Banjima people.

The claim was first lodged in 1998 and covers an area from Tom Price in the west of the state, and extending to towards to the town of Newman in the east, The West Australian reported.

The land rights will co-exist with iron ore mining operations held by BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Hancock Prospecting and Fortescue Metals Group.

It is expected the decision will not affect the rights of mining tenements or pastoral leases that have already been granted, but will change the negotiation process with the region’s miners.

Banjima elder Alec Tucker described the judgment as a "joyous day".

"We've been looking forward to this for a long time," Tucker said.

"We know it's Banjima country. It's my grandfather's country, my father's country. I think the old people would be happy about today."

Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Simon Hawkins said it was disappointing the group had been forced into a trial.

"The State Government needs to stop waging expensive legal battles and take a more collaborative approach," he said.

Hawkins said he hoped the decision would mean other Native Title claims in the region could be resolved by consent.

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