Statement by the Wangan and Jagalingou people about the Carmichael Mine

THE Wangan and Jagalingou people are the common law holders of the Carmichael Mine land. We wish to speak about the damage this mine will do to our people and our culture. We will tell you something about our culture and sacred beliefs so that you can understand our frustration with the legal processes and the unwillingness of government and Adani to listen to us and respect us.

We have made our position clear – Wangan and Jagalingou Families Representative Council are resolved to maintain the claim group’s position of no ILUA with Adani; and to publicly oppose Adani’s proposed Carmichael mine because of its devastating impacts on the group’s native title, ancestral lands and environment and cultural heritage.

We state that, as first nations people, we will defend our rights as sovereign owners and custodians, protect our ancestral land inheritance, and maintain our rights and interests in and on our Country. We will take necessary actions to protect our rights and interests.

Adrian Burragubba speaks on behalf of Wangan and Jagalingou Families Representative Council. He has knowledge that was passed on to him through the elders of his father’s people from when he was a small boy. They taught him the law. The land teaches him and the Wangan and Jagalingou people how to belong, when to sing or dance or practice culture. This is what the Wangan and Jagalingou people say about the mine.

This mine will forever damage Wangan and Jagalingou sacred country. The sacred beliefs of our culture, our religion, is based on where the song lines run through our country. These song lines connect us to Mother Earth. Trees, plants, shrubs, medicines we know are on country, waterholes, animals, habitats, aquifers – all have a special religious place in our land and culture and are connected to it. Our spirits and the spirits of our ancestors travel above through and under the ground of our country. They dwell there indefinitely.

Harming the environment, the country, the landscape, the ecosystems, the dependent species, is harming our sacred beliefs and spiritual connections.

The Carmichael Mine site is part of a large number of sacred and archaeological sites that exist in the country of the Wangan and Jagalingou people. The Queensland government knows about this but will not help protect our sacred lands and it does not speak of what it knows. Adani is only interested in the mine and does not respect our culture and religion. Adani’s leader will not show us the respect of talking with our elders and law men.

We will say something about our sacred beliefs and land.

Many sites in Wangan and Jagalingou country are associated with Ancestor Dreaming Totems and other totemic beings that manifest through certain natural species for the Wangan  “babbing bura” (Bottletree people) the Possum, Bee and Sand Goanna are said to own fire and the (kidji)tree.

The Jagalingou “Woccullabura” (Eel people) are said to own the Sandalwood tree for ceremony and the ownership of water are associated with Carpet Snake, Scrub Turkey and Echidna. These are moiety classifications throughout Wangan and Jagalingou. All people, animals and plants are classified into moieties, the classification defining rights to land and resources, and defining kin relations. The term bigun relates to totems. Every bigun relates to land interests and associated decision-making and ceremonial responsibilities derived from relationship to land through either Mother’s Father or Father’s Mother.

We the Wangan and Jagalingou people believe that any damage to the integrity of our moiety dreaming would have catastrophic consequences for all Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the region. Any damage, regardless of the perpetrator, attracts sanctions from other members of the regional Aboriginal societies. The law is you don’t kill your totem whether it is an animal or a tree. Our law protects us and maintains social order. Offences against our law and custom are offences of strict liability. They are serious, but remain unrecognized in Australian law. The forms of customary punishments included death, corporal punishment (including spearing), shaming and banishment. Because such punishments no longer exist does not mean the offences are no longer serious.

Our sacred connection starts at our place of birth. There, the child is given a representative animal, bird or reptile totem, either a social totem, or a dreaming totem they are forbidden to eat such creatures or their eggs as this would infringe our Law as you could die from eating your totem in most cases our people would go hunger for this reason. The Jagalingou (Woccullabura) belonging to the Gummoo Gummoo (Rain) Totem. The rain totem is connected to a tree totem. The tree totem for the Jagalingou (Wakeelbuhra) people is the Waxy Cabbage Palm and the Melaleuca – rain trees. They only come to life and flower in water. The dreaming totem Mundunjudra lives in the water, resides and moves and travels in and through the land. The dreaming totem comes from Gurri (the sun). In the Jagalingou country, spiritual ancestors who come up from under the ground and travel in and through the land  at sacred sites associated with the Rainbow Serpent known as the Mundunjudra. The Rainbow Serpent has power to control Wangan &Jagalingou sites where our people are born into their bigan (Totem) this has been so since the beginning of the creation period. We have ceremony near these trees to pay respect to our water Totem the (Eel). When we marry we are betrothed to a different moiety than our own. Even before birth we are promised to someone close to our estate but not within. Death signifies a return to the spirit dreaming so from birth you are connected to that tree. You are also buried with that tree. It is the totemic spirit being that can take you back to your dreaming.

Wangan & Jagalingou ceremonies and rituals are performed at sacred places like the Doongmabulla Springs and along the Carmichael River. They are performed to obtain access to the Ancestral Beings for example Mundunjudra (water spirit) and to spiritual powers that come from our Totemic beings. The ceremonies and rituals give access to animal spirit beings that go through your body at birth and connect you to your Moiety under our law of the Wangan & Jagalingou. Our people are responsible for protecting these birthing sites in accordance with our systems of law.

The djala ceremony or (Yangaru), red Kangaroo was the last in the sacred ritual series of the Wangan & Jagalingou region and its ceremonies in terms of the sequence. By those ceremonies, those born to that skin Banbari/Kargilah and their totem tree and animal totem carry the terms on which the owner clans are defined. An owner clan member is any person who was a member by local descent and is responsible to protect the trees, animals and water under our law and our group. The group has a common spiritual affiliation to a site on the land and the owner clan has primary spiritual responsibility for that site. Group members are entitled by tradition to forage upon the land associated with the local descent group..

This ancient connection, through to the present, endows us with the knowledge of our traditional ownership and of our distinct identity as Wangan & Jagalingou peoples – the Weirdi speaking people – the Aboriginal peoples of the area covered by the proposed Carmichael mine.

Wangan & Jagalingou have in the past exercised and enjoyed our customary laws and practices in our lands including the area of the Carmichael Mine. We still do so to this day. We want to in the future but this Mine will damage our rights and offend our spiritual beliefs because of the destruction it will cause to the land and the waters on the mine site and around it and also the wider region.

The impacts of the mine and the various leases are not limited to the places on which they sit; especially because of the way water flows through and connects vast interlocking landscapes and our neighboring peoples’ lands. Our neighbouring tribes also have similar stories of their connection through the Water Spirit, referred to regularly as Moonagudda or Mundunjuda. We will not subject our Country and that of others to ‘death by a thousand cuts’. Our law (and lore) embodies a ‘seamless web of cultural landscape’ – this is our Country; and it must be cared for and managed.

This mine will forever interfere with our way of life and culture and traditions. It will have negative impacts on our social, cultural and economic structures. We know this because of the way Adani has treated us. We know this because of what is proposed for the future. It has not listened to us and does not respect our views. We have seen damage already in country under cultural heritage management plans. Adani and the State Government have not offered anything meaningful to protect and secure the future of our country and our sacred connection. The price Adani is asking us to pay includes silence in the future – not being able to object to anything they do.

This runs against our rights as Aboriginal people – rights described in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a signatory.

We assert our right to free, prior, informed consent; to our own economic development; to protection of our country and culture – and object to the way in which our rights are systematically over-ridden in the process by which the State grants mining interests, and the Tribunal is restricted by the law; and in the way Adani negotiates with us. While the legal system may weigh against us – when we say No, we mean No.

We realise we are up against the power and wealth of a massive global corporation and a State government. We realise that the Tribunal is influenced in its decision by the idea that the public interest is in having an expanding mining industry and therefore other interests don’t get a look in. We cannot afford to continue a case where we do not have the resources to put our objection to the Tribunal and the cards are already stacked against us. It is better not to participate at all. Adani has the benefit of a system that does not respect our rights as Aboriginal peoples – the right to our lands and resources; the right to conservation and protection of the environment; the right to practice our law and customs; the right to live in freedom, peace and security.

The association of Wangan & Jagalingou with the Rainbow Serpent (the Water Spirit) promotes the collective right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples with our own cultural values. The Wangan & Jagalingou people have reluctantly decided that we are unable to continue to participate in the Tribunal proceedings. These proceedings and the legislation under which they are held do not advance our right to live in freedom, peace and security as distinct peoples with our own cultural values.

For these reasons our lawyers were asked to tell the tribunal that we can no longer participate in these proceedings.

Adrian Burragubba, Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owner

On Behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou Families Representative Council

Monday, 2 February 2015

Letter to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk

Dear Premier,

Respecting our People, Country and Right – a meeting request re Wangan & Jagalingou concerns regarding the proposed Adani Carmichael Mine

Congratulations on your ascent to the Premiership. We wish you success in this important role and look forward to the possibility of a constructive new dialogue with you, and between your government and our fellow Traditional Owners in Queensland. We hope you are able to bring about lasting and just change and positive outcomes for Aboriginal people in the State.

The Wangan & Jagalingou Traditional Owners, through their Family Representative Council, wish to express our grave concern about the push by Adani Mining Pty Ltd (Adani) and the Queensland Government to open up the Carmichael Mine – the largest black coal mine in Australia, and one of the largest in the world, on our traditional lands.

We are seeking a meeting with you to present our concerns and request your consideration of and agreement to the following:

Respecting our People

We are the Traditional Owners of most of the area of the Galilee Basin, including the proposed Carmichael mine site. We have a registered native title claim on the area. The Queensland Government was prepared to consent to our native title claim when it was thought that an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) with ourselves, the State and Adani would be entered into, in October last year.

Our people formerly rejected the ILUA. We could not in all conscience consent to the destruction of our ancestral lands, cultural heritage and the environment. Nor allow such a project to contribute to the unfolding and dire effects of climate change that pose such great risks to all peoples.

We now ask that:

The Queensland Government recognise and respect us as the original people of Wangan and Jagalingou country by agreeing to a consent determination of our Native Title Claim, irrespective of any ILUA.

Further, as you know, Adani has applied to the National Native Title Tribunal for a Future Acts Determination in relation to the mine. As you are aware, if approved by the Tribunal, this allows for Adani to seek from the State the issuing of mining leases and the compulsory acquisition of our Native Title on parts of our traditional lands.

We ask that:

The Queensland government upholds its fiduciary responsibilities to us by refusing to support Adani’s application for a Future Acts Determination in the Tribunal, and by asking the Tribunal to acknowledge and address the concerns we raised in our Statement to it (see attached).

Respecting our country

If the Carmichael mine were to proceed it would tear the heart out of our country – destroying our ancestral homelands, the cultural landscape and our heritage; causing irreversible and major damage to the environment; and unleashing a mass of carbon into the atmosphere, propelling dangerous climate change. Nor would the impacts be limited to our lands, they would have cascading effects on the neighbouring lands and waters of other Traditional Owners and other landholders in the region.

One of the major reasons we would not authorise an ILUA for the Carmichael mine was that there was insufficient honest explanation and acknowledgement of the adverse and irreversible impacts on the values of our country. It is not possible to give free, prior and informed consent to any developments without the major, cumulative and long-term effects of those projects on our natural and cultural values being properly identified.

We have no confidence in the Environmental Impact Statements prepared to date – and nor do they adequately cover the value of our country as an interconnected and living whole; as a vital cultural landscape. This is central to us as a People, and to the maintenance of our identity, laws and consequent rights. We remain implacable in our opposition to the destruction that would befall our country if the mine were to proceed.

We therefore ask that:

The Queensland Government fund an independent expert assessment, to be conducted in cooperation with us as Traditional Owners, to properly identify the natural and cultural heritage and landscape values of our homelands; with a view to their protection and management, and to sustainable economic development. The Queensland Government should then look at opportunities to acquire leasehold lands, held currently by the proponent for the purposes of the mine, for return to Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners.

Respecting our rights

It is our recognised right under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to give or withhold our consent to developments on our lands. At no time has the State or Adani received our free, prior and informed consent for the issuing of mining leases and the development of the Carmichael mine.

Indeed, when we have said no, Adani has sought to override our decision and pursue their outcomes through the National Native Title Tribunal. If they are successful in their Future Acts Determination application they will then, as noted above, be able to seek from the State the issuing of mining leases and the compulsory acquisition of our Native Title on parts of our traditional lands.

If the Queensland Government agrees to this it will be overriding our rights in favour of securing the interests of a mining company. In addition, the previous State Government created a State Development Area under which it is seeking the compulsory acquisition of our native title for mine infrastructure, including Adani’s proposed rail line, with corresponding loss of connection to country and damage to our cultural heritage.

We respectfully request that you respect and uphold our internationally recognised rights to free, prior, informed consent; to our own economic development; and to protection of our country and culture. We therefore ask that:

The Queensland Government refuses to issue mining leases currently applied for by Adani – i.e. ML 70505 and ML 70506 – and rule out any compulsory acquisition of our native title with respect to the mining lease applications and the State Development Area.

It is also important that you support us to build our social and economic autonomy. We ask that:

The Queensland government provide direct assistance to Wangan and Jagalingou people through our own governing structures, so that we may engage on more equal terms with the State and development proponents, and undertake our own development for the benefit of our community.

Development will include opportunities for jobs and businesses in new and emerging industries that are sustainable, respect people, culture and our environment, and secure our capacity for self-determination.

We thank you in advance for considering our concerns. We hope that you are able to make a time to meet with a small delegation from the Family Council prior to the 25th March 2015, to address the requests we have made here.

It is important to us to know that your Government will act responsibly to respect us, our country and our rights; and give us a fair hearing and a substantial response on our concerns.

Of course, we are resolved to pursue our rights and interests in these matters. The Family Representative Council will maintain a position of no ILUA with Adani, and will publicly oppose the Adani Carmichael mine because of its devastating impacts on our native title, ancestral lands and environment and cultural heritage. As first peoples, we will defend our rights as traditional owners and custodians, protect our ancestral land inheritance, and maintain our rights and interests in and on our Country.

Yours truly,

Adrian Burragubba

For the Wangan & Jagalingou Family Representative Council