• Fortescue Metals will appeal a court recognition of a native title claim around its Solomon mine. (AAP)
Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) will continue the 14 year long legal battle with Yindjibarndi people from the Pilbara in Western Australia after they lodged an appeal to a Federal Court decision.
By
Rangi Hirini

5 Dec 2017 - 11:17 AM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2017 - 9:38 AM

Fortescue Metals Group has appealed a Federal Court judgement which granted the Yindjibarndi people exclusive rights over their land in the Pilbara.

Nev Power, Fortescue Chief Executive Officer, said in a statement the Federal Court’s judgement has “no impact on the current and future operations” for mining on the land.

“Consistent with our position during the trial, Fortescue welcomes the recognition of Yindjibarndi native title. However, the Federal Court decision relating to the concept of exclusive possession has potentially wide ranging implications for new investment in resources, agriculture and tourism,” he said.

Mr Power also said the company’s current seven Land Access Agreements has employed over 1200 Aboriginal people across the Pilbara and delivered $2 billion in contracts to Aboriginal businesses in addition to compensation payments.

However, Michael Woodley, Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) chief executive, said this move by FMG has shown the mining company lack of respect for Aboriginal people.

“This shows the arrogance of Andrew Forrest as chairman of this organisation, and the lack of respect he has for Indigenous people. It also shows there is no chance FMG are wanting to build a relationship with the Yindjibarndi people,” Mr Woodley told the Australian newspaper.

Decade long fight

It’s been a long and drawn out battle for the Yindjibarndi people, the proceedings began in 2003. Since then many elders have passed away including Mrs Patt, John Patt’s mother, who passed away in September a few months after the Federal ruling.

Yindjibarndi land is located in the north-west of Western Australia up in the Pilbara and is about 2700sq km in area.  

Just last month, Federal Court Justice Steven Rares handed back the land to the Yindjibarndi people in a celebration at Millstream Chichester National Park.

At the ceremony, Justice Rares said the land had been Aboriginal land since before the British Crown had seized possession of it after white settlement.

“The Yindjibarndi people not only possess today, but also have continuously possessed — since before the British Crown claimed sovereignty over Australia — specific native title rights and interests in the claimed area that have not been wholly or partially extinguished," he said.

YAC chief executive, Michael Woodley said the group will continue to do what they do best and defend their land.

“It’s nothing new for us but we have come to terms with the fact that we know what we’re dealing with, and we have a fairly good idea of how to manage it,” he told The West Australian.

Federal Court Ruling

In July the Federal Court recognized Yindjibarndi people had exclusive rights over the Pilbara land including where FMG operates the Solomon iron ore mine.

“I have found that the Yindjibarndi are entitled to exclusive native title rights and interests over all of the unallocated crown land in the claimed area and the Yandeeyara Reserve, except for a small area occupied by the Tom Price railway,” Justice Steven Rares said.

“I am satisfied that the Yindjibarndi established ... that a manjangu (or stranger) still has to obtain permission from a Yindjibarndi elder before entering or carrying out activity on Yindjibarndi country.”

West Australian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said, at the time, he hoped for there to be some kind of negoation between the mining company and traditional owners.

"I'd be disappointed of course if FMG feel as though they need to appeal this decision,” Minister Wyatt said.

Days after the Federal Court decision, Yindjibarndi people said they will be launching a compensation claim against FMG.

The next stage of proceedings for the case are set to take place next year.

 

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