“In our traditional economy we created opportunities, we shared gifts and we looked after each other. Now that we participate in a western wage economy, we need to do this again. The challenge is finding a balance. The responsibility rests on us to make this work.”
This was the muscle behind Wayne Bergmann’s first speech as Chairperson of Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation (RNTBC.
Bergmann delivered the speech as part of the Nyikina Mangala Native Title Consent Determination at Lanji Lanji in May 2015.
With the dust settled, his reflections are more somber.
“We can’t rely on native title law to protect the things that are important to us. It’s not strong enough, so we have to continue to assert our rights to ensure our interests are protected.”
Nonetheless, it was a momentous occasion.
The respected John Watson opened the ceremony by calling everyone to Lanji Lanji with a Boogardi Garda (Dreamtime) story. The story was about the creation of the country, the Fitzroy River, and the people who walked the country before the creation of the river.
Usually the story is sung over a couple of days but Mr Watson cut it short to fit with the program.
Hundreds of people then gathered under tents and the shade of the majala trees to listen as Attorney-General Michael Mischin, and Federal Court officials including Justice Gilmour, handed native title rights to the Nyikina Mangala people.
Nyikina Mangala country covers over 26,000sq kilometers of land and the native title determination means that there’s now one million square kilometers of recognised native title in Western Australia.
According to Robert Watson, a Traditional Owner and Director of Walalakoo, it’s about time.
“Twenty-one years ago I stood in Canberra pushing for native title legislation to be passed. For years, we’ve seen other people receive native title on their respective countries—now it’s our turn. Today is a part of our history, much of which is untold, unsaid, unheard and unacknowledged.”
The path ahead, however, looks to be equally as challenging, particularly given the mining interests in the Canning Basin, much of which is on Nyikina Mangala country.
Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation will work to ensure our people's cultural values, intellectual property and fundamental rights as Traditional Owners in the Kimberley are protected to the best of our ability.