Low attendance, ‘ticked’ claims bog WA’s Aboriginal heritage co-design

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Two major Aboriginal organizations have criticized the Western Australian government’s development of the new Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act regulations.

The Jamukurnu-Yapalikurnu Aboriginal Corporation and the Kimberley Land Council both claimed the process was government-led and did not really reflect co-design principles.

JYAC chairman Melvin Farmer said Martu directors and staff who attended the consultations believed the government had already made up its mind about what it wanted.

“We are trying to get regulations to protect our heritage because many of our observations on the law itself were not taken into account,” he said.

“It feels like the government is balancing the interests of miners, farmers, local government, tourism and anyone who wants to use WA’s land, with the interests of indigenous people who are trying to protect our heritage and participate in the economic development of our traditional lands.

State Indigenous Affairs Minister Tony Buti said the process was overseen by the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Reference Group, which included Indigenous community leaders Merle Carter and Lindsay Dean.

“This was the first of three rounds of engagements that will take place across WA throughout the year,” he said.

“I recognize that some parts of the community feel that the Indigenous Cultural Heritage Act has not met their expectations, but that should not prevent them from participating in co-designing the regulations.

“The fact is that this law will be one of the strongest, most protective and collaborative laws of its kind in the Commonwealth.”

Mr. Farmer said the regulations must recognize the rights of indigenous peoples to speak for the country and decide what should be protected.

“Martu is lucky because we have exclusive ownership rights to native title,” he said.

“Other indigenous peoples without strong land rights have to fight with one hand tied behind their backs.

“We have an obligation to our ngurra and our families and will work with this new system as best we can.”

Concerns have also been raised in the Kimberley, where there have been reports of low attendance at workshops.

Kimberley Land Council chief executive Tyronne Garstone said many people were unaware workshops had been scheduled.

“It’s deeply concerning because it means many community members haven’t been involved in the co-design process or have their voices heard,” he said.

Mr Garstone said a workshop attended by the KLC in Perth highlighted the failure of the new law to address problems with existing laws.

“Discussions highlighted a serious lack of resources for the new cultural heritage regime,” he said.

“Several participants raised concerns about the short two-week deadline for stakeholders to submit comments following the Perth workshop,” he said.

Mr Garstone said that, as things stand, co-design was in danger of becoming a failed “tick the box” exercise.

Mr Buti said initial funding was available to build the capacity of local Aboriginal cultural heritage services and additional resources once the law became operational would be considered.

In May, he told parliament that more than 300 people had so far taken part in co-design workshops.

The second phase of consultation should begin at the beginning of July.

It will include a new series of community workshops and sessions in remote Indigenous communities pending COVID-19 measures.

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