Yet another Aboriginal Nation has declared independence from the Commonwealth of Australia. Fed up with the raw deal that its people have been subjected to since the colonial masters arrived on country back in the 1880s, the Waanyi Nation declared its independence on 31 January.
“We the Aboriginal peoples of the Waanyi Nation in the Gulf of Carpentaria are taking control of our homeland,” reads the declaration. And it outlines that that Waanyi Governing Tribal Council (WTGC) – a legally registered entity – will be taking care of administering the nation.
The Waanyi people fought long and hard to gain legal recognition of their Allodial rights under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). But, as they’ve set out in a further notice, the success of their native title claim in 2010 has not brought them financial benefit.
The Waanyi began their uphill battle to gain native title recognition in 1994, as mining interests had their sights on establishing an open cut zinc, lead and silver mine on their land. Indeed, in 1997, the now-defunct Pasminco moved in to begin construction on Century mine.
Following the reestablishment of its independence that dates back before European contact, the Waanyi Nation is busy setting up a local economy. And looking ahead, the tribal council will be in charge of protecting environment, and it will be in touch with the current mine owners as well.
Take back what’s theirs
“The WTGC declared its independence through the UN as the Waanyi Nation, with the support of its people, and aid of the Treaty Council and international human rights lawyers,” said WTGC chair Darryl Trindle.
“We the people put forth the Waanyi declaration in the reconvening of our tribal lands, which had been taken from us by the Australian government – under no agreement – many years ago,” he told Sydney Criminal Lawyers.
Europeans moved into Waanyi country – coming across from the Northern Territory – to claim an 1883 pastoral lease over the land, and establish cattle stations. The local people were killed if they resisted. The entire population of Waanyi in the east were wiped out.
On the order of the magistrates, native mounted police were deployed in the area to deal with the First Nations people via gunshot. The lessee at Lawn Hill reported in 1885 that police had shot and killed at least one hundred of the sovereign people on the land he’d claimed as his own.
“The UN, the Australian and state government have been made aware,” Trindle made clear, adding that the coming recognition from these institutions of “the Allodial owners of Waanyi Tribal Lands-Waanyi Nation” has already been accepted.
Recognised, but still forgotten
The Waanyi peoples were granted their native title claim over 1.73 million hectares of what’s now referred to as northern Queensland in December 2010. However, as Trindle tells it, this hasn’t resulted in prosperity for his people.
“The continued mismanagement by the Australian and state government, and subcommittees, has resulted in royalties only to be received by these entities and a minimal select few,” he explained, going on to say that it’s also seen the “continual suppression of the Waanyi tribe”.
The Waanyi peoples submitted their initial claim to the National Native Title Tribunal in 1994. In February the following year, the president of the tribunal ruled it couldn’t accept it, as the issuing of 1883 and 1904 pastoral leases over the land had meant that native title had been extinguished.
This ruling was challenged in the Federal Court. And in November 1995, the majority sided with the tribunal head. Although, the dissenting judge outlined that he believed that as the 1904 lease was for “pastoral purposes only”, it was meant to establish use of the land alongside the Waanyi.
And when this was taken to the High Court, the majority sided with the dissenting voice and found that the 1904 lease hadn’t extinguished native title and therefore, the tribunal was free to accept the claim, with the ultimate result being its success.
Birthing a nation
The Waanyi Nation issued a second public announcement last week, outlining that the WTGC is now in operation, and is currently working to establish an economy for the benefit of the people of the newly restored nation.
“WTGC with the people are in the midst of setting up our own functioning nation with our own economic outlay, allowing the people to make, manage and learn,” Trindle said.
“Profits made will go back into the land and people through infrastructure, health, culture, and other monetary support.”
Mr Trindle further explained over the phone that there are two cattle stations on Waanyi country that will be underpinning the local economy. And the WTGC is about to announce some other infrastructure plans it’s got underway.
On the topic of the Century mine, he outlined that the council is yet to approach the mine owners, but it will be entering into discussions with them once they’ve established proper administration of the region.
And in the meantime, Trindle said he’d just gotten off the plane on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria for a week of meetings related to the burgeoning Waanyi economy.
The WTGC has registered a company with the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations. The Waanyi Governing Tribal Council Aboriginal Corporation recognises that the Waanyi are the Allodial owners of the land. And the corporation will be conducting dealings with the outside world.
The Waanyi Nation is not the first local Indigenous nation to assert its independence. The Murrawarri Republic did so in March 2013. It sent its declaration to the Queen of England, requesting documents proving Crown title over its land, but that proof never arrived.
The Australian government remains the only Commonwealth nation not to have entered into treaty negotiations with the First Nations peoples of the land it’s established upon. New Zealand and Canada have both entered into treaties with First Peoples.
And as for Mr Trindle, he’s looking towards the future. “The independence of the government will see profits, management and culture returned to the people,” he concluded. “There forth seeing vast improvement from past management entities.”
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.