The Rirratjingu people of East Arnhem Land are taking their long-running fight with the Northern Land Council over mining royalties to the full bench of the Federal Court.
The Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation said in a statement that a court decision last month effectively made them “wards of the state”. It has launched an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court.
In a statement, the Rirratjingu said they were devastated by the court ruling that the NLC, not the federal court, determines borders between traditional owners.
The Rirratjingu have been locked in a dispute with the NLC linked to the distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in mining royalties from Rio Tinto’s Gove bauxite mine and alumina refinery since 2011.
But they have warned the implications of the case are much wider.
RAC chairman Bakamumu Marika said the appeal was the next step in getting the Rirratjingu what is rightfully theirs.
“The decision of the court was that the Rirratijingu cannot control their land, and that Land Councils – which are Commonwealth bureaucracies – decide borders,” he said.
“This is our land. We cannot let this stand. This would makes us second-class citizens in a two-class system, where traditional owners do not have the same rights to our land as other Australians do.”
The case will now go to a directions hearing and then to the full bench of the Federal Court in the coming months.
His brother Witiyana Marika, a senior Rirratjingu traditional owner, agreed.
“Our law, and our land, and our people, and our song lines, and our language were created at Yallangbara, not in a computer by the Land Council in their office for lawyers,” he said.
“They will never change our land, or our boundaries or our ownership. They are trying to take our money and our equality and we will fight them.
“We will fight and continue fighting for land rights for all Aboriginal people. Our children too will fight for land rights like us and our fathers.”
He said the NLC doesn’t speak for their country.
“Who are they, the NLC? What claim do they have to Rirratjingu land?” he said. “They didn’t live here, we did . . . they don’t own our law, or our business, or our land, or our song lines, or our culture. The NLC has no anything. They won’t push us around and laugh at us. We will fight them.”
Witiyana Marika was in Canada speaking at the World Indigenous Business Forum on land rights when he got the news of the the federal court ruling.
“We are warriors,” he said. “The judge will understand us when he hears our case.”