• Protesting the deed handover: Larrakia man Eric Fejo. (AAP)Source: AAP
On Tuesday, a 37-year fight for 50 thousand hectares of land on the outskirts of Darwin ended with the Prime Minister handing the deeds of the Kenbi Land claim to traditional owners. So what happens now?
By
Rachael Hocking

Source:
NITV NEWS
22 Jun 2016 - 3:16 PM  UPDATED 22 Jun 2016 - 3:23 PM

It's one of the most complex land claims in Australian history for a reason: since 1979, more than 2000 people and several family groups have lodged claims.

In the first 20 years, the Kenbi claim was repeatedly knocked back – it has been subject to two extensive hearings, three Federal Court reviews and two High Court appeals in its long history.

Nearly 40 years since it began, it has presumably ended with the title deeds of land on the Cox Peninsula, opposite Darwin, handed back to six Larrakia traditional owners.

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But while the handback might seem like cause for celebration, many families are calling the deal fraudulent and unfair.

When six traditional owners were identified in 2000 by Justice Peter Gray, it meant about 1,600 claimants were left without any major rights to the land.

The settlement deal finally reached between the Northern Land Council, traditional owners and the Federal Government in April includes about 52,000 hectares of land as designated Aboriginal land in the NT Land Trust, and about 13,000 hectares as freehold land, which will allow for development through the Larrakia Development Corporation.

On Tuesday the NLC CEO, Joe Morrison, admitted not all Larrakia people were happy with the outcome.

He has told some of those people that there will be opportunity to ‘review’ traditional ownership of the Cox Peninsula once the land is handed back.

Sharmaine Siebert, whose family wasn’t granted traditional ownership, has called the Kenbi land claim 'fraudulant.'

"From our perspective there is a fraudulent process that has been undertaken for how many years?" she said.

Since the land claim was settled in April, Ms Siebert has been in two meetings with the NLC. 

She says they told her family to write a letter to the NLC to apply for traditional ownership.

“Why should we apply for traditional ownership when we already know our identity?” she said.

“You’ve just gotta play the game, and make them accountable and make them listen.”

“The fight hasn’t stopped, they might’ve handed it back in their processes, but at the end of the day the Dangalaba clan group is hurting… they haven’t heard the last from us.”

The NLC says it has not currently received any letters for a review of traditional ownership.

History of the Kenbi Land claim

The first land claim failed in 1991 because Justice Howard Olney ruled that the applications didn’t have enough evidence of spiritual responsibility to the land, meaning there were no traditional owners.

The Land Rights Act defined ‘spiritual responsibility’ as the existence of at least two people who could trace their clan membership through men.

But that ruling was successfully appealed and the stage was set for a second hearing.

In 2000 the Northern Land Council was able to get the claim approved, but to do so it had to divide the claimants.

It grouped together six people who descended patrilineally from Tommy Lyons, while other families were claimants under a body called the Larrakia Nation, registered in 1998 and initially facilitated by the NLC.

The purpose of the Larrakia Nation was primarily to provide a corporate identity for the Larrakia people.

This wider Larrakia group was made up of families who descended from both male and female ancestors.

Being included in this larger group caused dissent, because its descent model had less chance of fitting the criteria of the Land Rights Act (1976).

Sharmaine Siebert is part of the Batcho family group and says her family’s inclusion in the organisation stripped them of their identity.

"We are the Dangalaba clan group, and that's our identity. And yet through political processes they've placed us and oppressed us - our identity - within the Larrakia Nation model,” she said.

Protester makes voice heard at handback 

Tuesday's handback was marred by a protest by Larrakia man Eric Fejo. 

Like Ms Siebert's family, he is also angry at being excluded from the Kenbi claim. 

He used the occasion to criticise the 'Developing the North' white paper, and took aim at NT Chief Minister Adam Giles for comments he made in May, telling people who traveled to Darwin to drink and 'cause trouble,' to 'piss off.' 

"Adam! You got no right to tell our countrymen to piss off," Mr Fejo shouted.

"Our country is here, Larrakia country!

NITV has contacted the Northern Land Council for comment. 

EXPLAINER:
Native Title: What does it mean and why do we have it?
The Native Title Act was first created 23 years ago and marks a historic moment in Australian law that changed the face of our land rights system.