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Hundreds protest WA's proposed Aboriginal cultural heritage laws

Sarah Smit -

About 500 people gathered on the steps of Western Australia's Parliament House Thursday morning to support Traditional Owners from across the State as they protested the WA's draft Aboriginal cultural heritage laws.

Speaking on the steps of Parliament house, Kimberley Land Council Chair Anthony Watson said the proposed laws are a continuation of Australia's history of Indigenous cultural destruction.

"You put up these laws to actually discriminate against us," he said at the rally.

"These laws ... are really putting tape over our mouths to [make us] stay quiet about our heritage."

Protestors met at Kaarta Gar-up/Kings Park and Botanic Garden on the Fraser Avenue lawn before walking down Fraser Avenue and along Malcolm Street before turning onto Harvest Terrace and making their way to Parliament House.

Attendees were encouraged to participate in traditional song and dance performed on the Parliament House steps alongside respected Kimberley Elders and Traditional Owners.

A strong speech from Banjima Elder Slim Parker, he said the current heritage laws are enabling the continuing destruction of unknown numbers of significant Aboriginal cultural sites.

"Four hundred and sixty approvals in the past 10 years and each approval area may have had many sites destroyed. We don't know the numbers," he said to protesters.

Mr Parker said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still waiting for their voices to be heard and recognised.

"We are the First Australians still wanting to be recognised in this country's Constitution," he said.

KLC Chair Anthony Watson speaks to protesters at Parliament House. Photo by Hannah Cross.

Leading the KLC's call for change, Mr Watson called on government to meaningfully engage with Traditional Owners, saying the current process is co-designed in name only.

"Even though they said they're co-designing we still have no say in it. We don't have the decisions over the funds," he said.

"The details that we're stuck on ... the details within this proposal, it's going nowhere. It's going to make it worse for us.

"This is why we're here on these footsteps. To tell this government that's not good enough."

Yinhawangka Aboriginal Corporation Chair Halloway Smirke echoed Mr Watson's sentiments and called for more funding to enable Aboriginal organisations to take their place at the negotiating table.

"It's not really co-design. We need more consultation and we need the resources," Mr Smirke said.

The protest culminated in KLC Director Wayne Bergman reading a letter from the KLC to the McGowan Government, urging them to take Indigenous voices seriously and give Indigenous people the power to protect their own heritage.

KLC Director Wayne Bergmann presents a framed letter to WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson. Photo by Hannah Cross.

He presented Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson with the framed letter and a Dreamtime scene painted on paperbark from along the Martuwarra/Fitzroy River.

Read the full letter to the McGowan Government below:

By Sarah Smit

*Editor's note: Wayne Bergmann is part-owner of the National Indigenous Times.

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