Statement by Cathy Eatock of ARC on Future Work of the Permanent Forum during the 14th session of UNPFII 2015

Statement by Cathy Eatock

Aboriginal Rights Coalition[1]

Fourteenth Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Agenda item 8: Future work of the Permanent Forum

April 29, 2014, New York City (USA)

Madam Chair,

Distinguished members of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and representatives of Indigenous Peoples and Member States.

Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on your appointment as Chair of the Forum and acknowledge the recent efforts from Forum to better respond to address the critical issues raised at this forum.

Madam Chair,

  • We recommend that the Permanent Forum undertake a study on contemporary Indigenous dispossession within the Pacific region , with reference to Article 10 of the Declaration and broader international legal developments in other regions; and
  • That the Forum consider how Governments may be held to account, as conferred in Article 8.1 and 8.2 a, b, c, d, and e, of the Declaration, through the access of fair judicial mechanisms, to prevent the forced removal of Indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands and to provide adequate redress for current cases of dispossession.

Aboriginal connection to land in Australia has been continuous for millennia, where our lands hold our cultural knowledge and obligations[2].   With that connection comes a duty to care for country as custodians, for our ancestors and for future generations.  As Gingiya Guyula, a Yolgnu Elder says, ‘Strong discipline comes through the spirits of our fathers talking through the lands’.[3]

In 2014 the Federal Government in Australia attempted to transfer responsibility for remote Aboriginal communities to State Governments.  This prompted the Western Australian Premier to threaten to close Aboriginal communities that were not viable financially and where he alleged social dysfunction.[4]  Within remote Australia, there are about 500 Homeland communities with approximately 10,000 people living on country and a further 40,000 people linked to these regions[5].

While health is a key indicator for the Government’s closing the gap strategy in Aboriginal affairs, there is irrefutable evidence that remote Aboriginal homeland communities have significantly superior health outcomes for its residents compared to Aboriginal people living in larger townships[6].  A study in the Northern Territory found the death rate in Homeland communities is 40-50% lower for Aboriginal adults.[7]

These improved health outcomes are attributed to increased cultural practice, social and family support, increased physical activity and a healthier diet that is more reliant on traditional bush foods and reflects lower rates of substance abuse.  Rather a costs benefit analysis suggests that the continuance of homelands may actually save governments money.[8]

 

Aboriginal Homelands have been shown to have lower levels of family violence and substance abuse.  Homelands also provide respite and are used for rehabilitation addressing petrol and alcohol additions and offenders from larger communities.  Homelands also provide economic opportunities  through a thriving traditional art market providing $775.78 million per year or 5.8% to the Northern Territory economy, eco-tourism and natural resource management programs[9], including work in fire management, biodiversity maintenance and environmental protection.[10]

Contemporary dispossession is an issue of concern across the Pacific region.  Across Melanesia Customary land enjoys special protection under Papuan New Guinea, Vanuatu and Solomon Island law.  The vast majority of land remains under customary title, controlled by clans and families and cannot be sold, leased, mortgaged or disposed of except in accordance with custom. [11]

However under pressure from foreign aid donors Melanesian Islands land development and donor programs that enforce land registrations breaking communal title are at odds with Indigenous communities’ interests and their customary systems of land and the traditional economy[12].  The registration of lands, opens them up to leasing, initially enticing, the land is however undervalued and requires compensation to the leaseholder for any improvements to the land at the end of a lease. With low financial incomes these leases effectively revert to the leaseholder, with the customary owner loosing title.[13] Analysis has shown the leasing of lands for cash crops leaves communities financially worse off, compared to their traditional hybrid crops[14].

Further, for customary lands to access Australian and other international and national loan funds they are required to register their lands[15].  Rents are found to cover only 1% of subsistence value and between 1-2% of the value of market gardens.[16] With over 90 percent of land owner businesses failing, the banks then foreclose on registered lands and are able to break up these lands and to sell[17].  Given the high level of illiteracy many people don’t understand formal land titles and are often exploited in mineral rich resource development areas.[18]   The high level of contemporary Dispossession occurring warrants a study to provide clearer direction to governments, aid agencies and Indigenous peoples.

[1] ARC is a member organization of IPMSDL

[2] Pyle, April, (2015) There’s no place like homelands, Amnesty, p2.

[3]  Korff, Jens, (2015) Aboriginal homelands and Outstations, Creative Spirits, p3

[4] Korff, Jens, (2015) Aboriginal homelands and Outstations, Creative Spirits, p8

[5] Mooney, Gavin, (2009) Health and Homelands: Good Value for Money?, Institute for Cultural Survival, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) , MITWATJ Health Aboriginal Corporation, p8

[6] Pyle, April, (2015) There’s no place like homelands, Amnesty, p3.

[7] Korff, Jens, (2015) Aboriginal homelands and Outstations, Creative Spirits, p5

[8] Mooney, Gavin, (2009) Health and Homelands: Good Value for Money?, Institute for Cultural Survival, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) , MITWATJ Health Aboriginal Corporation, p3 & p17.

[9]Pyle, April, (2015) There’s no place like homelands, Amnesty, p3.

[10] Korff, Jens, (2015) Aboriginal homelands and Outstations, Creative Spirits, p5

[11] Anderson, Tim, Melanesian land the Impact of Markets and mechanization, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 68 December 2011, p86.

[12] Anderson, Tim & Lee, Gary, (2009) Understanding Melanesian Customary Land, Chapter 1 in ‘In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land’, Aid-Watch, p3.

[13] Anderson, Tim & Lee, Gary, (2009) Understanding Melanesian Customary Land, Chapter 1 in ‘In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land’, Aid-Watch, p4.

[14] Anderson, Tim, Melanesian land the Impact of Markets and mechanization, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 68 December 2011, p92.

[15] Anderson, Tim, Melanesian land the Impact of Markets and mechanization, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 68 December 2011, p90.

[16] Anderson, Tim, Melanesian land the Impact of Markets and mechanization, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 68 December 2011, p96.

[17] [17] Anderson, Tim & Lee, Gary, (2009) Understanding Melanesian Customary Land, Chapter 1 in ‘In Defence of Melanesian Customary Land’, Aid-Watch, p6.

[18] Anderson, Tim, Melanesian land the Impact of Markets and mechanization, Journal of Australian Political Economy, No 68 December 2011, p89.