The comments, made in a recent speech, have provoked an angry response from those opposed to the historic and controversial ‘One Claim’ Native Title application. Shannon Power reports.
No man or woman can speak for another person’s ngaachi (land) is the message a disgruntled group of Aboriginal people in Cape York have for Noel Pearson after he claimed they were puppets for a “white organisation”.
Mr Pearson accused members of the recently formed Cape York Alliance (CYA) of holding back their people by challenging Australia’s largest ever Native Title claim.
The One Claim was lodged in December last year by the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) and includes all areas of Cape York not yet under Native Title claim, which covers about 14.6 million hectares of land.
Using an oration at Marist Youth Care in Brisbane on Monday night, Mr Pearson likened members of the CYA to ‘crabs in a bucket’ and said the One Claim was crucial to development in Cape York.
“Instead of doing a piecemeal claim, which may take 60 years to complete, we’ve lodged through the rest of the Cape, which we hope can be solved through negotiations in the next five years,” he said.
The CYA was formed “a couple of months ago” to ensure Traditional Owners had more of a say in the decision making process on issues relating to their land and are adamant they’re not against Native Title.
“This is not about vendettas or a witch-hunt,” said CYA chairperson Don De Busch.
“We haven’t done this to come and align to the right and be a hindrance to the progress of Indigenous affairs in Cape York.
“Every single one of us has a right to ask for transparency. Like they say: ‘there’s nothing about you, without you’.”
One Claim isn’t the only thing on the CYA’s agenda but Mr De Busch said there had been some issues in how the CYLC went about engaging the people of Cape York about the claim.
“Just because they sent out letters and had authority meetings doesn’t mean they have a right (to lodge the claim),” he said.
“A lot of people haven’t been spoken to and were left in the dark about this.”
Mr Pearson also accused the CYA of being the puppets of “white organisation” Cape York Sustainable Futures (CYSF), former LNP member for Cook David Kempton, and Federal MP Warren Entsch. He accused Mr Entsch of having an “agenda” which had always been opposed to Native Title.
“Pearson’s speech insinuates that us mob are just dumb blackfellas, that we’ve been led astray or brainwashed by Entsch and CYSF, when in actual fact we’ve led this because we the people of Cape York… ask for accountability and Pearson refers to us as black trackers,” De Busch said.
“He is the one always talking about our right to responsibility and self-determination… this is for the people of the Cape to have a voice to be able to stand up and say we want something different and better and not be bullied and intimidated.”
Traditional Owner Jack Wilkie-Jans from Mapoon in Western Cape York and Deputy Chair of CYSF warned blanket land claims could be used to ill effect when it comes to political and economic leverage.
“Nobody should have access to that much power over the needs and future of their fellows,” he said.
“It’s important to look at how the Claim One was used to roughshod economic development.
“All Native Title claims give way for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) process to negotiate on any land use of traditionally owned land both either under claim or determined.
“The work on the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) upgrade was considered ‘land use’ and so under the ILUA process of Claim One, the negotiations between the CYLC and the Queensland Government were done in secret, under “Commercial in Confidence” and essentially put the companies nominated by the CYLC ahead of everybody else.
“Apply this to anything, any road, any farm, any mine, any bridge or dam and you will see how concerning this is for the wide-spread economic prospects of those not held in favour by the CYLC.”
Liberal backbencher Warren Entsch, whose electorate Leichhardt includes Cape York, dismissed claims he engineered the CYA’s decision to dispute the One Claim.
“[Pearson] is belittling his own people, suggesting they don’t have the intellect to speak for themselves,” he said.
“I knew nothing about this until I was invited by the Elders… I was asked to be involved.”
Mr Entsch said the majority of Traditional Owners in Cape York were against the One Claim and the solution was to give people the chance to express their point of view.
“I’ve raised this before that you can’t assume the Indigenous wisdom is with one unelected Cape York leader,” he said.
However, Mr Entsch’s state counterpart Cook MP Billy Gordon is wary of his and David Kempton’s involvement with the CYA.
“It’s no coincidence that Kempton and Entsch are protagonists at a time when Native Title is the cornerstone of any engagement for progressing Traditional Owner interests in such projects as agriculture, land clearance, mining and the PDR,” he said.
“I’ve been on the public record as saying Native Title is not a hindrance to development social or economic and I stand firm on that view.”
Mr Pearson and the Cape York Land Council have both been contacted for comment.