Rio didn’t consult us about mining: NT traditional land owners

Mining giant Rio Tinto has been accused of failing to consult with several traditional land owners over a new lease agreement in the Northern Territory.

The Datiwuy, Golumala, Marrakula and Marranga clans, which make up the Dhurili nation may take legal action against the federal government and the Northern Land Council (NLC), the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

They plan to boycott the official ceremonial signing of the agreement between Rio Tinto and the traditional owners, set to take place in Arnhem Land today.

In a statement released yesterday, Aboriginal elder Reverend Djiniyini Gondarra said clan groups of the Dhurili nation had been previously recognised as traditional owners of parts of the affected area.

He said the NLC and the federal government have failed to properly consult all the relevant Yolgnu clan groups.

"For reasons presently unknown to them, they were not properly consulted about the recent negotiations with Rio Tinto Alcan," he said.

"As a result, the clans of the Dhurili nation consider that their rights under Australian and traditional Aboriginal law have been breached, and that they have been improperly excluded from the negotiation process.

"Colonisation is still happening today, creating disharmony, by people ignoring due process.

"Again the failures of the Australian government and the NLC to work with (the) Yolgnu people through a proper process of law have created division between the clans of Arnhem Land."

The deal is covered by commercial confidentiality and secures the continued operation of the bauxite mine and alumina refinery in the Gove Peninsula for the next 42 years.

The NLC says the deal is "righting past wrongs", referring to the continued mining at the site without the permission of traditional land owners since 1969.

In the 1970’s, arguments over mining in the Gove Peninsula were a key component in starting Australia’s Land Rights movement
Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin, Northern Territory Chief Minister Paul Henderson and Julia Gillard are scheduled to attend the celebration at Yirrkala, south of Nhulunbuy.

Last week Rio Tinto and Reconciliation Australia took steps to establish closer ties with business and Indigenous communities, handing a Reconciliation Action Plan to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Four native title groups in the Pilbara also signed Australia’s most comprehensive native title agreements with the mining giant.

The issues surrounding mining on traditional Aboriginal land have been increasingly prevalent lately.

Most recently the traditional owners of the Kakadu National Park have accused Energy Resources Australia (ERA) of misleading people in the area about their intentions to mine parts of the park.

Indigenous land owners in the Hunter have also had issues within their community with mining leases and recently Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest was the victim of death threats over Fortescue Metals Group (FMG)’s plan to compensate indigenous groups in the Pilbara with $22 million a year to mine part of the land.

Forrest, who founded Generation One, which aims to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together as one generation, stepped down as chief executive of FMG last week to concentrate on other projects including Indigenous issues in Australia.

Buru Energy was praised last month for surrendering a mining lease on traditional land in Roebuck Bay.

Image: Rod Benson

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