Since inception of the dispute between Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) and the Yindjibarndi People, two years ago, FMG has misleadingly claimed, on repeated occasions, that the ‘majority’ of the Yindjibarndi People support their Solomon Project and their Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA).

FMG has said that a meeting of Yindjibarndi people on 16 March 2011, which was sponsored by FMG, supports their claim of ‘majority support’. This meeting was in fact flawed and unrepresentative—as documented in the video of the meeting released at the time—“FMG’s Great Native Title Swindle”.

Chairman of the YAC, Mr. Stanley Warrie

Fresh evidence of just how strong Yindjibarndi opposition to FMG and its Solomon Project is, came from two vital meetings held in Roebourne in March of this year. First was the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) AGM on 21 March 2012. Second was the Section 66b authorisation meeting on 24 March 2012.

The latter was held to authorise a new ‘Applicant’ group for the Yindjibarndi #1 Native Title Claim, which underlays FMG’s Solomon Project. Most momentous was the Yindjibarndi People’s decision to dismiss the incumbent group of Applicants, and elect a new group of thirteen to represent the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim. This new and enlarged group unanimously supports the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation, and will reinstate the majority of incumbents who oppose FMG.

Decisions made at both these meetings conclusively re-confirm the clear support of the Yindjibarndi People for YAC’s management of native title matters, and especially, its rejection of FMG’s high-handed and inequitable approach to negotiations and agreement-making over its Solomon Project.

Application has now been made to the Federal Court asking that the Court make an order to replace the Applicants in accordance with the Yindjibarndi Peoples’ wishes (the hearing is scheduled for 30 & 31 August). On the basis of the Yindjibarndi People’s proper and orderly authorisation of a new Applicant, YAC is confident that the Court will make such an order, thus effectively removing the two Applicants who—with the support and financial backing of FMG— have been pressing vexatious litigation against YAC.

FMG’s attack on the Yindjibarndi People follows a pattern established by Fortescue in its dealings with the Nyiyaparli People in 2005. As pointed out in emails during that dispute, by FMG’s native title lawyer Mr Ken Green, FMG is ready and willing to employ ‘aggressive strategies’, including a ‘barrage’ of litigation to secure the execution of land access agreements with recalcitrant traditional owners.

These same “aggressive strategies” are now being employed by FMG against the Yindjibarndi People and YAC—directly via the fomenting of dissent within the Yindjibarndi community through misinformation, and the 19 court and tribunal proceedings currently in train (several of which seek ministerial consent to destroy Yindjibarndi sites of significance); and indirectly via the funding and encouragement of proceedings in the Supreme and Federal Courts by the FMG-sponsored splinter group, Wirlu-Murra Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (WMYAC).

FMG’s “aggressive strategies” and litigious “barrage” have been extremely damaging to the wellbeing of the Yindjibarndi community. Resources better spent on community development have necessarily been diverted to legal defense; and FMG’s support of the split in the members of the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim Applicant, has crippled the community’s ability to conduct business concerning the Yindjibarndi #1 Claim, and to legally conclude agreements with other companies, such as Rio Tinto, with whom YAC and the majority of Applicants have happily negotiated.
A favourable decision by the Court will set the scene for a decisive change in Yindjibarndi fortunes, as they shrug off key pieces of FMG’s “aggressive strategy”—a strategy aimed at destroying YAC for the simple reason that the majority of the Yindjibarndi People refuse to support FMG’s exploitative and unjust land use agreement.

An unexpected endorsement of YAC’s rejection of FMG’s land use agreement has come from splinter group WMYAC’s Senior Counsel, veteran native title lawyer Mr Greg McIntyre, who openly stated on two occasions that there were anomalies in FMG’s Agreement, and that he would not recommend it be signed in its present form.

Mr Woodley, CEO of YAC, said, “After two years of meddling and attacks against us in the courts, the overwhelming support of our people in recent meetings is a win for Yindjibarndi people-power against the divisive and under-handed tactics of FMG. I hope the Yindjibarndi voice in both these meetings sends a message to Fortescue, and they come back to us with a fair agreement in line with standards already set by other more responsible companies we are working with.”

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