Guest Article: Historic Bill delivers hope

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Tuesday May 10 will go down as a historic day for the Noongar people of Western Australia. In a move that was more than six years and a-half-years in negotiations and drafting, both Houses of State Parliament passed the Noongar (Koorah, Nitja, Boordahwan) (Past, Present, Future) Recognition Bill 2015.

What this landmark Bill has done is turn around two centuries of denial and recognised the Noongar nation and its people as the Traditional Owners of the lands in the South West of Western Australia.

The Bill also recognises the special relationship Noongar people have with those lands and the significant contribution the Noongar people have made, are making and will continue to make to the heritage, cultural identity, community and economy of the State.

For the better part of 200 years, Noongar people have been trying to regain some of the freedom, some dignity, some sort of peace in a world that is irreversibly different from that which came before it.

The denial of Noongar identity was evident as recently as 10 years ago when the State argued before the Federal Court that there was no such thing as a Noongar people but rather, 14 separate societies. The Bill completely reverses this – a momentous shift in position and a great step forward for our State.

As the former CEO of the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) I would like to thank the Ministers and MP’s from all sides of politics for their support in passing this Bill. I’d also like to acknowledge the work of current SWALSC CEO, Wayne Nannup who has pursued the implementation of the negotiated agreement and the passage of this Bill.

SWALSC has been an integral part of this process having conducted the negotiations and coordinated a group of Elders to co-author the Bill. As a result of that and to the best of my knowledge, the Bill is historic, it’s the first one in Western Australia with an Aboriginal language in it, possibly the first in Australia.

As well as being a long journey, it’s also been a very emotional one. When the Bill was first tabled in Parliament in 2014 it stirred up a lot of feelings for many Noongars because it was the first time they had officially been recognised as a people. These are Noongar people who were part of the Stolen Generation, who’d been taken from families and their land, had their identities denied and grew up in institutions. Their identity as a people and as a Nation has been given back to them now.

With 40,000 Noongars in Western Australia, the reality of a Noongar nation will empower us and make us stronger. The recognition of us as a people is the kernel around which everything else can be built.

It will give us the continued ability to work with and negotiate with government. It will make us more cohesive. It will have resonance in so many other places as well. The power that can be derived from recognition and cohesion should and could also filter into other areas of society like health and education, law and order.

The Premier Colin Barnett described the bill as ‘historic’ and added that, “Despite their history of oppression and marginalisation, Noongar people have survived and continued to assert their rights and identity.”

As the Traditional Owners of our land, we will continue to do that and I hope we will see more Noongar people become the carriers and custodians of our culture and language, carers of our country, backbones of our families and advocates of our people.


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