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Traditional Owners gear up to march for heritage

Sarah Smit -

Traditional Owners will march on Parliament House on Thursday to deliver a message stick to Premier Mark McGowan calling for meaningful protections for Aboriginal heritage in Western Australia.

The protest follows a briefing session today by WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson on the proposed Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill attended by 40 representatives from the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) and other Aboriginal groups across the State.

The briefing session was originally scheduled for late July but was postponed until Wednesday.

It's understood that despite many amendments made to former Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt's original draft, the Bill still fails to meet the standards set out by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Traditional Owners believe the Bill as it stands is a step backwards in protecting the world's oldest living culture, placing critical decision-making power on the future of Aboriginal cultural sites in the hands of mining companies and other proponents.

In a statement, KLC Chair Anthony Watson said the proposed legislation would not prevent another disaster like the Juukan Gorge tragedy.

"The McGowan Government has a once in a lifetime opportunity to get the laws around the protection of Aboriginal Heritage right," he said.

"As it stands, the draft Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill fails to take the crucial step in recognising Aboriginal people as the decision makers about their own cultural heritage."

"The land rights movement has brought us such a long way in giving Aboriginal people control over our past and future through Native Title."

"How can the final say over what happens to Aboriginal sites rest with the minister, especially when we have seen that result in the tragic destruction of Juukan Gorge?

"The heart of the issue is that Traditional Owners must have the right to say 'no' and for that to mean 'no', even when it doesn't suit industry interests."

Watson invites all Western Australians to attend the march on Thursday and show support for the State's Aboriginal heritage.

The protest will commence at 10.30am on Thursday August 19 at Kings Park and Botanic Garden.

Protestors will then walk to the steps of WA Parliament where there will be speeches, dancing and other formalities from 12.00pm.

Traditional Owners will then deliver a letter and shield to Premier Mark McGowan at 1.30pm.

By Sarah Smit

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