Central Land Council Annual Report 2016-2017

Chair's report

francis kelly

Francis Kelly

I can’t remember a year so packed with big anniversaries: 50 years since the Wave Hill Walk Off that kicked off land rights, 40 years since the Aboriginal Land Rights Act changed the power relations in the Territory forever, and 25 years since the High Court’s Mabo judgement exposed the lie of terra nullius and brought us native title.

We celebrated the anniversaries at a joint council meeting with the Northern Land Council at Kalkaringi in August and marched on Freedom Day together with hundreds of people from all over the region and beyond, including the families of Vincent Lingiari and Eddie Mabo.

Mr Lingiari’s son, Timmy Vincent, joined us a few weeks later in Alice Springs when we launched the first Vincent Lingiari Art Award at the Our Land Our Life Our Future exhibition. When the winner, Marlene Rubuntja, recovered from her shock she told us she made her sculpture My future is in my hands to show that she is strong. She also wanted to honour her father, the first full-time CLC chair, Wenten Rubuntja.

We had plenty of other reasons to celebrate. During the past 12 months, families travelled to five native title determinations over country that has nurtured their ancestors for tens of thousands of years. I shared their joy at Victory Downs near the South Australian border in June, when Justice Reeves handed down a consent determination over the second-largest determination area in our region. It’s been a big year for native title, but there were other records.

Never before did our communities invest so much of their mining compensation income in community driven development. Between them, nine Tanami communities allocated more than $7 million in projects, many of them designed to support our young people and strengthen our culture. I am pleased that half of the decision makers on the community-based committees that prioritise and plan these projects are women.

I felt particularly proud of our women as I sat in the audience of the ABC’s Q&A program in Alice Springs in July. I was listening to our senior policy officer Josie Douglas who was part of the panel, our delegate Barbara Shaw who challenged the panel about the ongoing hurt the Intervention has caused, and my sister-in-law Valerie Patterson from Lajamanu community who asked about bilingual and bicultural education.

Valerie is an experienced teacher, language worker, and member of the Warlpiri Education and Training Trust (WETT), the best hope for our young people in the Tanami region. She was fresh from a WETT meeting that morning that had talked about a review of the first 10 years of this successful community development program and begun to plan for its next decade. She stood up and described how a lack of support and respect is driving Yapa school staff away. Then she asked what it would take for the education department ‘to work side by side with us, and respect our language and culture being taught in our community schools’.

It was the kind of question we ask all the time. Governments keep making policies for us, not with us. We have heard many fine words from the new NT Government about regaining our trust by giving us control over community housing and jobs in construction, but things are moving as slowly as a car that needs a bush mechanic. We hear this car can’t be fixed without Canberra.

My neighbours in Yuendumu still crowd too many people into too few houses and our school kids still miss out on a good night’s sleep. We got some rushed repairs in late 2016, after we threatened to take legal action and went to the media, but the repair and maintenance services out bush have not improved. Housing was a big deal in the last Territory election and our people again threw out a government that had failed to deliver. It is time we woke up and realised how powerful we are when we take political action together.

Francis Kelly meets with custodians at Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles to discuss the desecration of the sacred site.

Francis Kelly meets with custodians at Karlu Karlu/Devils Marbles to discuss the desecration of the sacred site.

Warren Snowdon (left), Francis Kelly and Tony Burke share a joke at the 2017 ranger camp at Ross River.

Warren Snowdon (left), Francis Kelly and Tony Burke share a joke at the 2017 ranger camp at Ross River.

Our campaign for more ranger funding is a good example. Minister Scullion said that the Federal Government would fund our Ranger Program until 2020 and, for the first time, the NT Government is also contributing. Federal Labor has promised to double ranger funding if it wins the next federal election. This was not lost on our rangers who hosted Shadow Environment Minister Tony Burke at their annual ranger camp at Ross River in May.

I was proud to join Anangu elders as they took back control of Mutitjulu in March. When we first talked about our new model for community township leasing in Canberra in 2010 neither side of politics took it seriously. Seven years later there were smiles all around and everyone was ready to sign up to a new kind of lease that puts the community in the driver’s seat.

Watarrka traditional owners taught us two good lessons about why it pays to be united and never give up. They have fought against plans for mining and fracking in Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park since 2012 and even took their campaign to Canberra. In June, the NT Government banned mineral and energy exploration and mining in the park. The families also spoke up in the media about the Kings Canyon Resort’s plans to bring in poker machines. When they explained how pokies gambling would harm their communities, the resort dropped the idea, much to everyone’s relief.

The mood at my meeting with the traditional owners of Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) could not have been more different. The elders there were very hurt and angry after individuals desecrated their sacred site in April and a video of it was widely shared on social and national media. I wrote to the Aboriginals Area Protection Authority, asking it to take legal action against those responsible. AAPA promised to do all it can to bring them to justice but the elders are still waiting.

We can’t wait for the NT and Federal governments to stop pointing the finger at each other, and get on with removing dangerous asbestos from our communities. In Yuendumu we have used our compensation income from The Granites gold mine to set up the Yapa Kurlangu Ngurrara Aboriginal Corporation, a business that employs local people to look after outstations, and carry out recycling and contract work. The business is keen to clean up the asbestos but sadly has been unsuccessful in getting the Aboriginals Benefit Account to fund this urgent work. This is just one example of why the ABA needs reform. As we agreed at Kalkaringi, the land councils are working together to develop a better model that will shift control of the fund from the minister to Aboriginal people.

Also at Kalkaringi, our members made it very clear that jail is the wrong answer for our young people when they get in trouble with the law. They are not safe there. I spoke about my grandson who sported a black eye when I visited him in juvenile detention and he told me that the prison guards are too rough. We know from our successful Mt Theo project that the solutions lie at home, on country, where we can keep an eye on our young people and bring them back to our law. The Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention heard our message loud and clear. Let’s hope governments listen to the commission when it reports later this year.

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