Government site decision quashed
The Supreme Court of WA has quashed a decision by the State Government to deregister an Aboriginal sacred site in the waters and creek beds surrounding Port Hedland port.
The landmark decision could spark further action by traditional owners across the State after Greens Mining and Pastoral Region MLC Robin Chapple claimed more than 22 other sacred sites had been deregistered under similar circumstances in the past two years.
Court documents revealed the Kariyarra people believed the water and lands surrounding the port were imbued with the life of the Warlu (rainbow serpent) and were linked to the spiritual and physical lives of the Marapikurrinya clan.
Originally recognised as a scared site, it was deregistered by the Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee in 2013 after it determined the area was not used for religious purposes.
Marapikurrinya man Kerry Robinson, who challenged the ACMC's decision, said in a statement last week the court's determination was about achieving respect and acknowledgement for the site.
The North West Telegraph understands the decision will not impact on existing agreements between traditional owners and companies operating in the port.
But Kariyarra elder Patricia Mason questioned what effect the decision would have on amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act being debated in State Parliament.
Traditional owners across the State have opposed proposed changes to the AHA, fearing it will give industry the right to destroy sacred sites.
"I welcome this decision because we have been fighting tooth and nail in regard to our oldest living culture," Ms Mason said.
"There's nothing that is going to be saved with the way mining companies are now."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Peter Collier acknowledged the Supreme Court decision, claiming the site was removed due to lack of clarity within the current legislation.
"The decision further confirms the need for Aboriginal people to be properly consulted prior to decisions being made," he said.
"It reinforces the need for change to the system."
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