A native title settlement over Western Australia’s Mid-West region is one step closer, having received overwhelming support from the Yamatji Community at the authorisation meeting on December 9.
Approximately 1,000 claimants, representing the Yamatji Nation, Southern Yamatji, Hutt River, Mullewa Wadjari and Widi Mob claims, came to Geraldton over the weekend to decide the fate of the Yamatji Nation Indigenous Land Use Agreement, which resolves native title over 48,000 square kilometres of land in the region, in exchange for a broad range of State Government benefits.
Throughout last Sunday, the claimants were taken through the detail of the Agreement in preparation for Monday’s authorisation meeting.
Legal advisors, the Traditional Owner Negotiating Team and State Government representatives were on hand to answer questions and to ensure that the claimants understood their commitments under the Agreement, and those of the State Government.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt was also in attendance.
On Monday, more than 500 Yamatji people voted with an overwhelming majority voting yes; one of the most successful authorisation meetings to take place in Western Australia.
It is anticipated that the Agreement will be executed in early February, then submitted to the National Native Title Tribunal for registration.
Details of the Agreement, which is under Court ordered mediation, will remain confidential until that time.
As stated by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt:
“I had the privilege of attending Sunday’s information sessions and was overwhelmed by the community’s support for this agreement.
“I have never experienced so much interest and positivity in a native title agreement. I am not surprised, then, that there were so few dissenting voices.
“With such support, it is anticipated that Conclusive Registration will be achieved in a timely manner. That’s when the benefits will begin to flow.
“The benefits package focuses heavily on economic development and economic independence for the Yamatji claimants. They will be well placed to achieve economic independence in the coming years.
“The State Government looks forward to working closely with the Yamatji Nation to ensure their aspirations under the Agreement are met.”
As stated by Michael Pagsanjan of MPS Law, lawyer for one of the native title claim groups:
“Never before have native title claim groups embarked on such an ambitious process, including the innovative way information was presented and discussed before decision making.
“All participants should be applauded for the effective deliberation of complex legal issues. It is the result of several years of mediations conducted by the Judicial Registrar of the Federal Court of Australia and culminated in the meetings in Geraldton earlier this week. The respect and unity displayed by native title claim groups is testament to the strength of the laws and customs of traditional owners.
“The outpouring of interest and support for the settlement, inspired by elders and community leaders – some of whom recently passed away – is truly awe-inspiring.
“I congratulate the parties and look forward to watching the next chapter of self-determination unfold, including the native title consent determination in 2020.”
As stated by Fred Taylor, Chair of the Traditional Owner Negotiation Team:
“On behalf of the TONT (Traditional Owner Negotiation Team), I am pleased that the Yamatji community from the claim area, young and old came out in big numbers to have a look at the deal and make a decision about the proposed settlement and determination of native title.
“This has been over 25 years in the making and is a historic moment for our people. We’ve lost many elders and a fellow TONT member along this journey, but they really got us to this place where we as a community got to make a decision about our future. We are really looking forward to the native title determination that will recognise us as native title holders in the area and a settlement package that will provide real opportunities for us and let us look after our Country.
“I want to acknowledge my fellow TONT members, all the advisors and the YMAC staff. They’ve worked tirelessly to support us to be able to show to our mob what the State is offering and moving towards having our native title recognised. I’m proud of us mob.”