Wangan and Jagalingou Peoples defend their land from Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine

Original Source: The Guardian. Article by Blair Palese.

The Wangan and Jagalingou people’s rejection of the Indigenous land use agreement with Adani for land designated for the Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin will put our national values to the test. The decision is simple – a choice between preserving our history, our land and our environment or giving in to the interests of big coal and gas.

Although this is a major test case of Australia’s commitment to the principles set out in the Native Title legislation, it is definitely not the first instance of Indigenous communities fighting against the encroachment of fossil fuels on their culture and territories across the world.

In saying no to Adani, the Wangan and Jagalingou have sewn their fight into the growing global tapestry of first nations people standing up to fossil fuel expansion. Like the Athabasca Chipewyan battling the tar sands of Alberta, the Achuar Indians fighting oil and gas in the Amazon and the Ogoni and Ijaw’s fight against Shell in the Niger Delta, they are going head to head with some of the world’s richest and most destructive companies, to defend their land, their cultures, and in turn the planet as we know it. Essentially, they are taking on a battle which we should all be involved in.

Closer to home, we have seen the Gomeroi people of NSW stand side by side with farmers, celebrities and environmentalists to oppose the controversial Maules Creek mine which would destroy a number of their sacred sites. Similarly, in 2013, the Western Australian Goolarabooloo people fought off plans to build one of the largest gas plants in Australia at James Price Point.

As this resistance movement grows, so too does its legal legitimacy. In 2007, the UN general assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, granting traditional owners legal recourse to contest their land being used without their “free, prior and informed consent” – a right that companies like Adani would rather ignore.

Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (W&J) presents a Declaration of Defence of Country to Queensland’s Speaker of the House Peter Wellington outside Parliament House in Brisbane, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAPIMAGE

(Murrawah Johnson of the Wangan and Jagalingou people (W&J) presents a Declaration of Defence of Country to Queensland’s Speaker of the House Peter Wellington outside Parliament House in Brisbane, Thursday, March 26, 2015. Photograph: Dan Peled/AAPIMAGE)

Within days of the Wangan and Jagalingou rejecting Carmichael, Adani mounted a legal challenge to rid themselves of the obligation to secure traditional owner consent to mine their lands. This is a true vindication of the fossil fuel industry’s contempt for playing by the rules, let alone international human rights law.

This fight is deeply personal, deeply place-based yet, at the same time, deeply global. It is about the protection of Indigenous people’s cultural landscapes – lands imbued with values and traditions built up over millennia. But it’s also about the right of companies to plunder the earth for a profit. Their fight is everyone’s fight.

The climate impact of fossil fuel expansion is something I speak of regularly. Fossil fuel companies intend to burn five times more carbon than the planet can safely handle, condemning us all to a miserable future. But whilst we still have some (albeit diminishing) time to fight back the climate impacts, the impacts for traditional owners, upon whose land these extractive agendas are being inflicted, are far more immediate and tangible. No amount of compensation can replace the historic and cultural value of the lands and artefacts destroyed to make way for new coal mines.

In the words of Adrian Burragubba, representative of the Wangan people:

This is the starting point of life. We consider this as our place of where we come from, our dreaming. If this mine proceeds, it will destroy every connection there is with our ancestors and our laws and customs.

Indigenous peoples should not have to fight this alone. It behoves non-Indigenous people everywhere to stand up and fight too – to be the allies that our ancestors weren’t, to recognise that the climate fight is ultimately a fight about justice and that neither can be won by ignoring either.

“I never thought I would see the day that we would come together. Relationships are changing, stereotypes are disappearing, there’s more respect for one another,” said Geraldine Thomas-Flurer of the Yinka Dene Alliance fighting the Northern Gateway Pipeline in British Columbia. This fight for indigenous rights could just be the greatest line of defense we have in the battle for climate justice. This fight is everyone’s fight.

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