W&J Cultural Custodians request urgent investigation of Adani

MEDIA STATEMENT

Sunday, April 25, 2021

W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians

A group of W&J Traditional Owners have requested urgent enforcement action be taken by Queensland’s Environment Minister against Adani for unlawful environmental harm and impacts on cultural sites.

The W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians, Traditional Owners of Wangan and Jagalingou Country, including senior cultural leader Adrian Burragubba, raised concerns that Adani Mining Pty Ltd (Adani) is causing unlawful environmental harm on their Country, impacting cultural heritage sites and infringing their cultural rights under Queensland’s Human Rights Act. 

In a complaint filed by the Environmental Defenders Officer, solicitors for the group, the cultural custodians are calling upon the Minister to investigate these matters and bring a proceeding under the Environmental Protection Act to remedy or restrain any offences being committed by Adani.

Senior W&J cultural leader, Adrian Burragubba says: “The W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians have seen how the construction and operations of the Carmichael Coal Mining Project are causing unlawful environmental harm to Wangan and Jagalingou Country, which in turn limits our cultural rights and those of other Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners.

“The W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians have particular responsibilities in relation to Jagalingou clan estates, where Adani’s Carmichael Coal Mine is under development. Our cultural rights embody responsibilities for the custodianship and protection of our ancestral homelands, which form the basis of our cultural life and Aboriginal sovereignty. 

“The right to maintain and strengthen our distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with our land and waters is protected under Queensland’s Human Rights Act and is a right we will continue to assert.

“We take our cultural and custodial roles seriously and have proven over a decade that attacks on our Country, our people and our rights will be met with unflinching resistance”, he said. 

Sean Ryan, EDO Ltd Managing Lawyer, said: “Our clients, the W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians, Traditional Owners of Wangan and Jagalingou Country have raised serious concerns that Adani Mining Pty Ltd (Adani) may be allowing contamination of their Country and limiting their cultural rights.”

“The information we’ve presented to the Queensland Government on behalf of our client indicates Adani may be in breach of its approvals and requires investigation.

“Chief among these concerns is the apparent failure to fully comply with groundwater conditions that require baseline monitoring to protect the sacred Doongmabulla Springs Complex.

“Our client today requested the Minister to take urgent actions to investigate these allegations and ensure the matters of cultural significance referred to are adequately protected”, he said.

The complaint before the Minister argues that, in the circumstances, any environmental harm which arises from actions associated with the Carmichael Coal Mining Project that are non-compliant with the Environmental Protection Act, amount to a limitation on the cultural rights of the Wangan and Jagalingou Peoples that cannot be considered reasonable or demonstrably justifiable. They are therefore a breach of the Traditional Owners cultural rights. To prevent further limitations of their rights, action must be taken immediately.

Adrian Burragubba says: “We are re-instating a permanent presence on Country to fulfil cultural obligations to protect the land and bring up our young people, thus safeguarding the future of our Dreaming stories. 

“The Cultural Custodians are carrying out the responsibilities and exercising the rights that belong to us as Traditional Owners and the First Law people of the land.

“This action is being carried out by the direct descendants of those who are the original owners of the lands and waters, who can ‘speak for country’ today.

“The W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians group is a foundation for speaking the truth to those ‘occupiers’ who are colonising our traditional territories for extractive industries.

“For the W&J First Nation to be strong and grounded in our rights we must continue to live and practice in direct connection to Country, culture and law.

“That means we must protect our Country from the ravages of internationally funded mega coal mines on our lands. We must do this so that we have the land and cultural basis on which to build for our future. 

“No one will suffer more if the Galilee Basin is truly opened up for coal, than our people” he concluded.

BACKGROUND BRIEF

Sunday, April 25, 2021

The role of the W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians

For the W&J First Nation to be strong and grounded in our rights we must continue to live and practice in direct connection to Country, culture and law.

It is the responsibility of the W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians to sustain our group’s connection to, and presence on Country to maintain ongoing cultural custodianship of the land and waters, especially our sacred Doongmabulla Springs.

We are a self-determined group of Traditional Owners who maintain permanent presence on country to care for our lands and waters. Our role includes monitoring damage and destruction on our Country and holding those who harm our lands and waters to account. 

We will expose and prosecute environmental and cultural heritage breaches under State and Commonwealth laws wherever we find them.

Our role as cultural custodians derives from our laws and customs and our specific relationship to our Ancestor Dreaming. 

The W&J Nagana Yarrbayn Cultural Custodians are leading the way in the protection of Wangan and Jagalingou Country. We are resisting the exploitation of our natural and cultural resources to prevent the destruction of our cultural heritage and the impairment of our identity as a First Nation.

Cultural Rights under the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)

Our rights as cultural custodians are claimed under the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld), which states that Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Queensland hold distinct cultural rights[1] as follows,[2]

  • Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples must not be denied the right, with other members of their community— 
    • to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage, including their traditional knowledge, distinctive spiritual practices, observances, beliefs and teachings; and 
    • to enjoy, maintain, control, protect, develop and use their language, including traditional cultural expressions; and 
    • to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their kinship ties; and 
    • to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual, material and economic relationship with the land, territories, waters, coastal seas and other resources with which they have a connection under Aboriginal tradition or Island custom; and 
    • to conserve and protect the environment and productive capacity of their land, territories, waters, coastal seas and other resources.
  • Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

[1] Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld), s28(1).

[2] HR Act, s28(2) and (3).

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