Australia: Congress Brings First Peoples, Industry and Government Come Together for Talks
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples has organised a forum to review relations with Australian Indigenous Peoples and the extractive industries.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples attended, in order to inform his on-going study of the issue (and his latest interim report to the Human Rights Council has been released - http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session21/A-HRC-21-47_en.pdf).
The Special Rapporteur also visited the Njamal people of the Pilbara region, where Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), and the Njamal entered into an agreement in December 2011 that - according to reports - will protect significant cultural sites and lead to the creation of a joint venture to run a mining operation on an orebody.
If this agreement holds, it will stand in marked contrast to FMG's alleged disrespect for the rights of the Yindjibarndi community on another of its leases. See: Australia State "Back Flips" on FMG Conditions
Congress Brings First Peoples, Industry and Government Together for Talks on Rights & Development
21 August 2012
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples (Congress) says its two-day forum will help inform an international study on extractive industries by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.
The UN Special Rapporteur, Professor James Anaya, is being hosted by Congress while in Australia.
Congress Co-Chairs Jody Broun and Les Malezer said the first day saw Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives from peak organisations, communities, traditional owners and NGOs come together to discuss human rights, the work of the United Nations and the relationship between these and development on Aboriginal land.
The second day will bring around 85 participants to the round table including senior members of industry and government.
"This is an important forum where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can have strong and frank input into the study and that will help establish international standards where mining occurs," said Ms Broun.
"The first day was important for our peoples to discuss key priorities including the legal framework; self determination and capacity building; culture, heritage and economic development and what we see as the way forward," she said.
"There is already a great deal of experience to be shared among our peoples. Communities across Australia have been negotiating for decades to have control over mining and major developments on or near their territories. And where mining might be negotiated on mutually agreed terms between communities and private corporations then of course our communities are looking to achieve economic, social, cultural and political benefits for their peoples," said Mr Malezer.
"The mining boom in Australia means that now more than ever, our peoples need to be prepared and informed on the impacts of mining, the options are available to them to control those impacts, and the benefits that should be shared with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
"We are very interested to hear from industry and government. These responses will contribute to Professor Anaya's United Nations study as well as assist Congress to report to our delegates at the forthcoming National Congress meeting," he said.
Representatives from across Australia include Aboriginal communities, National and State Native Title Representative Bodies, Land Councils, major mining companies and senior departmental government representatives from Attorney General's department, FaHCSIA and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Professor Megan Davis and other United Nations officials were on the agenda, which also included an address by the Special Rapporteur and presentations from Professors Marcia Langton (UoM) and Mick Dodson (ANU); Sonia Smallacombe (UN), Geoff Scott (NSWALC),Brian Wyatt (NNTC) and Kevin Smith (QSNTS).
A full list of participants, the agenda, summaries of discussions and background papers will soon be available on the website www.nationalcongress.com.au
List of Participant Organisations
ANU National Centre For Indigenous Studies
Attorney General's Department
Australian Conservation Foundation
Australian Human Rights Commission
Australian Indigenous Chamber of Commerce
Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association
Cape York NRM
Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining
Department of Resources, Energy & Tourism
Fortescue Mining Group
Goldfields Land and Sea Council
Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation (Mirrar Peoples)
Human Rights Law Centre Victoria
Indigenous Land Corporation
Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW
Jabba Jabba peoples
Minerals Council of Australia
National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
National Native Title Council
Native Title Services Victoria
New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council
Newcrest Mining Ltd
North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance
North Queensland Land Council
Northern Land Council
NSW Native Title Services Corporation
Office of the High Commissioner For Human Rights
Queensland South Native Title Services
Rio Tinto Iron Ore
Sinclair Knight Merz Group
University Of Melbourne
Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation
Mining Must Respect Indigenous Peoples´ Rights; UN Official
21 August 2012
MELBOURNE, Australia -- A top United Nations official is investigating how governments can force mining companies into adopting indigenous rights standards from their headquarters, even when operating on foreign soil.
James Anaya, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, says it is important to stop multinational companies from working under varying levels of human rights standards.
"One of the things I'm exploring is to what extent they hold themselves to the same standards, or are held to the same standards," he said in Melbourne on Tuesday.
He said an Australian mining company should have to meet Australian standards - or at least the prevailing international standard - no matter where a mining site may be located.
"They should be subject to the standards, and I would say to the minimum to the standards of the home country," he said.
"One of the things I'm actually looking at is to what extent home country governments can exert regulatory control over the activities of companies operating outside of the country.
"That is something that needs to be explored further and can really help indigenous peoples in those countries."
Mr Anaya is concluding a two-day round table with indigenous communities, the federal government and mining industry representatives as part of a global study on how the resources industry is affecting indigenous people.
There are similar problems and conditions between mining companies and indigenous people in developed countries, from Canada to Australia, he said.
The UN study, when released, will eventually be used to help create worldwide guidelines for all mining companies.
YMAC Co-Chair speaks in the national media about the future of Njamal country
Yamatji Marpla Aboriginal Corporation statement
26 August 2012
YMAC Co-Chair speaks in the national media about the future of Njamal country
The Njamal people of the Pilbara region of WA welcomed a visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya on their country last week. Professor Anaya visited the site of a joint venture between the Njamal people and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG), the North Star Project.
The Njamal People and FMG entered into an agreement in December 2011 that will protect significant cultural sites and lead to the creation of a joint venture to run a mining operation on an orebody adjacent to FMG's proposed North Star mine.
During the visit, YMAC Co-Chair and Njamal elder Mrs. Doris Eaton spoke to Fairfax media about the joint venture and what it means for Njamal people and country.
Professor Anaya had the opportunity to meet with the Njamal people and representatives of FMG to learn more about this unique land access agreement. He also visited significant Njamal heritage sites, including rock art complexes, and spoke with the Njamal people about the effect that mining has had on their community.
"I'm grateful to the Njamal people for the opportunity to meet with them on their country, along with representatives of FMG, and learn about a unique and potentially beneficial arrangement with the mining industry", Professor Anaya said.
Mrs Eaton said "This trip was a good opportunity to show Professor Anaya and the wider community what the Njamal People have achieved through our agreement with FMG. It is important that people see the beauty of our country first hand so that we can all work together to protect our culture, heritage and stories
Share in Fortescue riches a step closer for people of Pilbara
25 August 2012
Sydney Morning Herald
A pioneering mining deal is a mixed blessing for the Njamal.
It was just another traffic jam on another hot winter's day in the Pilbara. A dozen white four-wheel-drives marked with fluoro lines and aerial beacons waited while a 2.5 kilometre-long freight train hauled past 240 carriages of iron ore, each smoothed on top like raspberry ice-cream in a cone.
But this was not just another bunch of miners heading into the red dirt and spinifex hills 100 kilometres south of Port Hedland.
These were an Aboriginal group, the Njamal people, who plan to become miners themselves through a unique agreement with Fortescue Metals Group, and it was the first inspection of the North Star project area on their traditional country where they plan to extract magnetite.
In what is believed to be the first such joint venture in Australia, the Njamal signed a deal with Fortescue in December that will make them managers of a mine eventually producing 100 million tonnes of iron ore, which could yield them tens of millions of dollars.
Under the deal, which has been sealed with a private contract and celebrated with ceremonial song and dance on Thursday night, the Njamal will mine the ore on the tenement covering 847 square kilometres of their native title claim and Fortescue will buy it at an agreed price and also pay an annual management fee.
When she saw the rich red hills where Fortescue has set up its first-stage mining camp, emotions flooded in for the traditional law-woman Doris Eaton, who is the co-chairwoman of Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation, the native title body that helped make the deal.
''I feel sad to see mining happening in our country, digging up the environment. Look how beautiful it is now and mining comes and just destroys it. I am unhappy that some things will be destroyed and happy that this is a new turnover for our younger generation,'' she said.
The Aborigines are setting up a company to engage in the joint venture with Fortescue on behalf of the 350 native title claimants and their families. If all goes to plan, they will be able to make money from providing transport, camp-building and other mining works, says Barry Taylor, a Njamal businessman who was a key negotiator for his people.
''Say we mine 2 million tonnes per annum. We get 1 million tonnes, so there's $30 million in it, which is big money,'' he said. He envisages enterprises such as mango farms and construction companies. Mrs Eaton sees education for the young.
The Njamal have extensive experience in smaller businesses and in negotiations with miners but their priority in this has been to protect cultural sites and then to secure a monetary deal, the consultant lawyer Rainer Mathews said.
A company with a chequered history in its dealing with indigenous people and their heritage, in this case Fortescue has agreed to respect exclusion zones the Njamal have drawn around their important cultural sites.
In this, the Njamal have done the world a favour. The protected area includes engraved artwork comprising concentric circles and wavy lines pounded into the rock in a style that has been dated elsewhere at 30,000 years to 38,000 years old, according to Scott Chisholm, an archaeologist commissioned by the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation. He says that makes it the oldest art in the world.
The hundreds of motifs in the area include engravings of anthropomorphic figures with outsize genitalia and elaborate head-dresses belonging to a rock art tradition dating back 6000 years, while artefacts through the hills indicate that this was a major habitation site, he says.
Fortescue had helicopters to ferry the elders and their guests to see the artwork on Thursday and yesterday but, when a wizened old man in a cowboy hat, Johnson Taylor, cautioned that it might be a man's site, it was placed off limits to women. ''I have to protect myself,'' says Doris Eaton, who believes the sites have been put there for a reason, which this generation must respect.
For this reconnaissance, the Njamal brought the United Nations' special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, a Native American who is working on formulating standards for how extractive industries should behave worldwide as they press ever further into native lands.
He was here last week at the invitation of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, whose co-chairwoman Jody Broun said: ''We want Aboriginal people to be able to negotiate from positions of power with extractive industries.''
Anaya has seen what he calls ''predatory practices'' by mining companies in developing countries that have inspired him to focus on the way this industry treats indigenous people. ''They find their lands polluted. Outsiders come in and change the social and natural order and tensions often flare to the point of violence because of opposition to the operations,'' he says.
Eaton believes the Njamal had little choice but to negotiate a deal because it was highly likely Fortescue would get the go-ahead to mine on the land anyway, with or without them.
Older Aboriginal people had known for years where deposits were and kept that secret but new technology meant it was easy for mining companies to discover them, she said.
While other groups have deals with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto that give them 0.5 per cent of royalties, negotiations with Fortescue broke down. The Njamal were able to turn it around by suggesting the joint venture. The congress co-chairman Les Malezer says this is an example of indigenous people being pressured to sign agreements that do not recognise their property rights.
But Barry Taylor says: ''It's more in Njamal's interests than it is in [Fortescue's] because very rarely do mining companies give away their resources and that's what literally they're doing, giving away a portion of their resource to a native title group for the long-term sustainability of the group.''
Fortescue's general manager for magnetite, Michael Masterman, says the joint venturers still need to raise capital for the new mine. Magnetite, he warns, is more difficult to mine than other iron ore forms but there is already approval from environmental authorities for ''a very small first stage of the development''.
For Eaton, whose father was a leader of the 1946 Aboriginal pastoral workers' strike for better wages, half-owning a mine is a second wave of action to lift the Pilbara Aboriginal people out out of poverty. ''It's the same idea. We want to be independent. We don't want to see young people relying on [public] funds and on mining companies to make deals. One day we will maybe find something ourself and mine it.''
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples provided some accommodation and transport for this story.