Localised decision making and appropriate services that empower communities dominated discussions at the key forums on the third day of Garma 2019 at Gulkala in East Arnhem Land.
A large crowd heard from Selena Uibo, the NT Aboriginal Affairs minister, who confirmed that Ursula Raymond would become the NT deputy treaty commissioner.
Ms Raymond will work with NT treaty commissioner Mick Dodson on a two-stage treaty consultation process with Top End communities with a focus on the participation of young mob and women.
Ms Uibo, the only minister of the NT Labor government invited to speak at the festival, took a thinly veiled swipe at Garma organisers for excluding her from speaking at Friday’s opening ceremony.
Ms Uibo described her sidelining as an “utter contradiction” in light of the Garma key theme of empowering an Indigenous voice in 2019.
“I am the youngest minister for Aboriginal Affairs in the country and that should not demean my knowledge or experiences,” Ms Uibo said in her address.
The minister also spoke about the NT government’s progress on the implementation of Local Decision Making (LDM) Agreements in communities across the territory.
Ms Uibo said four LDM Agreements are currently in place across the Territory, as well as five LDM Statements of Commitment, while negotiations are ongoing to install more LDM agreements in other communities.
The LDM agreements are intended to transfer control of services to Traditional Owners, as well as ensuring services are appropriate and are meeting the needs of community.
The LDM agreements continue the work the government has done on supporting Traditional Owners to achieve the benefits of their land and sea rights recognised across various regions in the Northern Territory, said Ms Uibo.
Recently the NT government entered into an LDM Agreement in partnership with the East Arnhem Land Regional Council, Miwatj Health, the ARDS Aboriginal Corporation, the Laynhapuy Homelands, the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation and the newly established National Indigenous Australian Agency.
“The partnership marks a new way of working together to explore and properly recognise long-established Yolgnu ways of decision making and ensure Yolgnu are at the centre, and in control of, matters which impact their communities,” Ms Uibo said.
The minister also touted the NT government’s Full Circles program which facilitates opportunities for emerging remote leaders to engage with government on matters that affect their communities.
NT Treaty Commissioner Mick Dodson used his address on Sunday to lay out the pathway forward in the process for treaty or treaties in the Top End.
Mr Dodson emphasised that his role was to gauge the interest in a treaty or treaties and not to negotiate them himself.
“Whenever I talk about treaty, I’m talking about multiple treaties, that’s what people seem to be telling me at this stage,” he said.
Mr Dodson, who was appointed to the role of commissioner in March, said he would provide a report to the NT Chief Minister that detailed the key issues that mob needed to be consulted about.
The second stage of the process would commence in around 18 months, after the submission of the report and following a relevant period of assessment.
An economic development forum focused on several projects underway in communities across Arnhem Land that are leading the way in terms of the kinds of pragmatic partnerships repeatedly alluded to by many leaders and government ministers who have spoken at the festival.
The forum heard of links between industry and Yolngu community organisations and innovative enterprises. Many of the addresses stressed the importance of cross-cultural engagement.
Gumatj Senior Elder Djawa Yunapingu and Mark Annandale, a senior research fellow with the Tropical Forests and People Research at the University of the Sunshine Coast, told the audience about a collaborative partnership with the forestry industry.
Uncle Djawa said the endeavour drew on bringing “old ways and new ways together” to use resources on Country to maximise local community benefit.
The project will bring employment to many young Yolngu people, he said, and will involve the production of timber for local housing, mainstream housing, high-end designer furniture and industrial by-products such as wooden pallets.
Much of the timber is salvaged from mining leases.
Other ventures drawing on mining rehabilitation are also being explored by communities in the region, said Mr Annandale. These include utilising infrastructures established by the mining companies such as roads and warehousing.