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Sands have been shifted

We publish a response to the Courier Mail article Shifting Sands by Leisa Scott in the QWeekend dated 14–15th December 2019. The retort is by Dale Ruska, a Goenpul Goorie from North Stradbroke Island. Dale is a vocal critic of Native Title and has recently published a paper “Goorie Cry Out for Black Conscience Alert – Voice Treaty Truth” also posted on WBT.

For those who wish to hear an interview I did with Dale on this topic, the podcast can be found at People under Occupation, thanks to Paradigm Shift Community radio 4ZZZ fm 102.1 Fridays at Noon. – Ian Curr, Editor WBT.

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I write in response to the article titled ‘Shifting Sands’ in the QWeekend magazine, a pull-out magazine within the Courier Mail, dated 14–15th December 2019.

The journalist who produced the article in QWeekender, has quite obviously taken a one-sided approach in this publication, focusing deeply on opinions of the native title act representatives and state favoured process. Very little opportunity or consideration was given to obtain and publish the views and reasons of those referred to as the ‘vocal minority.’

Through culture I was taught while being raised by my great grandparents as Goenpul Goori on North Stradbroke Island. My great grandmother told me that throughout her entire lifetime as an Aboriginal woman that she had never and would never set foot in the sacred men’s place known as Kaboora (Blue Lake). When I asked her why she answered “because that’s men’s place, and that’s how the law is”.

Our traditional languages were that impacted as a result of oppressive colonial laws that the origin and meaning of words is still being rediscovered. Many Aboriginal people believe that Minjerribah was the name given to South Stradbroke Island by the Gold Coast tribes, other Aboriginal people say that the rightful name for North Stradbroke Island is Terangeri. For many, language, song and dance has come in the form of cultural revival over recent decades. Traditional song and dance for many has been used as a form of public performance from which financial income can be generated. Original traditional song and dance was used mostly for the purpose of sacred ceremonies and rituals. Aboriginal people have been fighting for human equality and justice for many generations as a result of the genocidal and ecocidal oppression of colonial rule, this fight is known by many as the Aboriginal struggle.

Placard reads: ‘We are Quandamooks too

I raise the following question: if there wasn’t the opportunity for financial gain and economic benefit, how many people would be committed to Aboriginality?

Many Aboriginal people believe that regardless of the oppressive impacts of colonial common law administration, we have never given up our ownership (ceded Sovereignty) to our tribal lands. Many of us feel that the Native Title Act and how it is administered is merely a modification of the historical Aboriginal Protection and Assimilation Acts. We feel that Native Title has been designed from the basis of colonial supremacy and paternalism, to ensure the validity, legitimacy of colonial rule and authority. Native Title, through agreements, ensures that Aboriginal people have to legally recognise and accept colonial common law authority. Native Title also ensures that any ancient customary forms of blood inherit title are extinguished and replaced by colonial forms of land tenure, and also validates the disenfranchising of ancient Aboriginal commerce and customary values systems.

Aboriginal history of our struggle has definitely not been concocted. For us Aboriginal people who oppose the processes of Native Title and state government facilitated agreements, we are not being hypocrites, we are not just whinging for the sake of whinging. We are not just willing to accept the contemporary trinkets (Beads and Mirrors) in the form of employment opportunities, financial gain and legislatively administered common law power. We feel that our meaning and values as original people of our land is worth much much more than contemporary trinkets.

At the Federal Court Hearing held on North Stradbroke Island around 2011 concerning Quandamooka Native Title, Dennis Walker instructed one of his children to deliver his submission to this hearing stating his objections to Native Title and his choice to reserve his First Nation Sovereignty. Dennis also stated that if you get involved with Native Title you are dancing with the devil. So who are the real hypocrites here? Following the monumental historical accomplishments of Quandamooka’s Native Title consent determinations, where is all of the Aboriginal customary land title? For Native Title to be recognised and co-management of Aboriginal lands to occur, Aboriginal people have to firstly accept the extinguishment of the title that they have fought to have recognised, in most cases so that their lands can become National Parks.

QWeekend, Courier Mail, dated 14–15th December 2019 P9

In the early days of the colonial history, Aboriginal people were recruited by state authority and colonists and charged with dispersing, dispossessing and exterminating other Aboriginal people (they were known as the Aboriginal mounted police). Today, the colony and its state no longer need the mounted police, they have the Native Title Act instead. Native Title is the colonial common-law construct which, through determination agreements allows for Aboriginal people and their prescribed body corporates to become the fourth tear of the colonial government, becoming responsible for the administration of Aboriginal people and their lands. Native Title and land use agreements define what sort of meaning through rights and recognition Aboriginal people are entitled to enjoy. Australia’s first Aboriginal senior legal council Tony McEvoy who was also a legal advisor for the Quandamooka claims publicly stated earlier this year that the Native Title Act was discriminatory and embedded with racism, it coerces Aboriginal people into accepting discriminatory outcomes through indigenous land use agreements.

Is this clearly just a contemporary form of Aboriginal assimilation? For many Aboriginal people, native title and then native title rights becomes their only meaning of their existence, only visiting Stradbroke Island for the purpose of native title matters, and enjoyment of native title rights, common-law legislative constructed meaning, could these people be byproducts of colonial assimilation?

Here on Stradbroke Island amongst the shifting sand the dynamics have definitely changed. The generational Aboriginal struggle for proper justice has been compromised by the people that are willing to accept what’s on offer by native title and its land use agreements. For a lot of Aboriginal people, now having their legally recognised native title, culture is seen as an economic commodity, providing an opportunity for them to exploit native title culture for potential financial gains and rights benefits. As we can see quite clearly with the statements published of Josh Walker and Cameron Costello in this article.

QWeekend, Courier Mail, dated 14–15th December 2019 P10

The rewards of native title are being reaped by some Aboriginal people and families, definitely not by all. Some practice culture and so-called ceremonies as paid employees of an organisation with the aim of accommodating tourism as part of the economic transition plan to address the mine closure. A plan and process that has been developed implemented by the state government. For many of us this raises concerns and conflicts over the original purpose, values and importance of Aboriginal customs and culture.

I am a part of the other rifts referred to on page 10, Dale Ruska. My life started at One Mile with my great grandparents Alfred and Lavinia Moreton we were moved into Dunwich by state government along with a number of other Aboriginal families in the late 60s early 70s, I spent several years living in Inala and other places. I have been living back on the island since the late 1980s living at One Mile, then over 25 years in Dunwich with no Silverspoon ever hanging out of my family’s mouths. I’ve now been living back at One Mile for the last five years.

I have been involved in our Aboriginal struggle on the island ever since the late 1980s, this involvement included issues like, being a member of local organisations, with my mother and many family elders being involved with the foundation of the Quandamooka Tribal Council which later became Quandamooka Lands Council, involved with the coordination of the application of Quandamooka Land Council’s first claims that ran parallel to the ending of Mabo. I’ve been involved in national Aboriginal protests against the implementation of the native title act in the 1990s, have remained as part of the national Aboriginal protest movement for proper justice until this day. I’ve campaigned and protested (unpaid) from the basis of my customary and cultural appreciation values, obligations and responsibilities.

With very few other individual Aboriginal people against the mining from 1989 onwards, I have been involved with this fight and many other significant efforts including the fight against Stradbroke Island groundwater exploitation.

I was the first named applicant on the Quandamooka native title application that was lodged first in the 1990s, removing myself as an applicant with my Moreton family attempting to remove our group as native title claimants in 2004. This was due to our coming to a family conclusion that the native title act and legal process was based on colonial common-law power and privilege and that it was totally unfair and unjust.

As part of one of the other rifts, vocal minority, breakaway mob, dissenters, my view, which I maintain regarding the giving of too much still applies now, the giving of too much is what Aboriginal people have to give for the sake of native title. If we are not giving, where is all of the exclusively owned and autonomously controlled, major parcels of ancient owned Aboriginal land in accordance with custom and traditions that native title has returned? Native title returns land to Aboriginal people so that Aboriginal People can return the majority to full federal, state and local government control authority and autonomy. From the returns, Aboriginal people benefit from the opportunities provided from co-management, land use agreement administration and economic opportunity. This is influencing and developing the adoption of foreign morals processes and new cultural values and priorities.

As part of the vocal minority referred to at the bottom of page 10, who has been excluded by other QYAC Directors from participating in a family nominated directors role on the QYAC Board, because of my public opinion, demanding the right, with many others, to be included and have our views represented in decision-making processes concerning our tribal lands and rights recognised. We also question:

  • the transparency and accountability of QYAC functions and administration;
  • truth and fairness regarding QYAC representation and authorisation structure wanting any family group who does not have customary bloodline connections to country claimed to be removed; and
  • for the claimant groups connections definition to be changed from having to prove connection through bloodline descent to the apical ancestors described as the Quandamooka people, to all Quandamooka Apical ancestors described having to prove customary bloodline connection to country (claim areas).
QWeekend, Courier Mail, dated 14–15th December 2019 P11

So if QYAC takes this on as being made to seem corrupt and not truly represented, maybe it’s their own sense of guilt being announced. With the state governments big economic transition from mining economy projection plan that QYAC are intensely involved in, promoting and already developing tourism as the alternative. Closing one destructive industry mining and implementing another potentially destructive industry, tourism. Will there be any commitment from the State and QYAC to develop ecological, biological and cultural sustainability management plans and a full feasibility analysis on the long-term viability, environmentally culturally and economically or will they just continue with exclusive process and rush into it no matter what the long-term costs might be.

The assumption portrayed of our being the breakaway mob on page 11 because of claiming sovereignty being burdened by native title in agreements with government is misrepresented. Aboriginal sovereign ownership principles and values was the moral core of Aboriginality which caused our 1990s claim efforts commencement, so does this make us that still value and maintain the moral meaning of Aboriginal sovereignty, the breakaway mob just because we are minority or is it the real breakaway mob QYAC?

We have had our own prominent Elders (Elders who played prominent roles in the national Aboriginal rights progression movement, Elders respected by many for their part) ones whose customary and cultural values and integrity were highly respected and regarded, values being maintained by some of us today. Customary and cultural understanding and appreciation of values and importance, obligation responsibilities and authority, does not come from being connected to people of a place through the descent or visiting connection to place or from being a native title member, director or chief executive officer. But rather it comes from a lifetime of learning, respecting, accepting and upholding the importance and values of our original meaning as Aboriginal people.

Yes, we did dissent from the Moreton Island claim determination for the same reason we try to hold QYAC accountable for, and due to the authorisation structure and process, bloodline connections to country and for not being included in the process of determining claim outcomes. We obtained a legal representation from compassionate lawyers and barristers engaged on a pro bono basis in recent months. We are not benefited by the opportunity of free legal native title representation provided by the legislated native title representative body who receive a 12 million dollar yearly budget from federal funding to progress native title claim recognition.

Yes we are dissenters like Costello says, we dissent from accepting that native title is the justice solution for Aboriginal people and our land. We descent from just accepting government constructive solutions based on paternal models of Aboriginal rights administration. We dissent from accepting that in order for our rights to be recognised, that we have to willingly conform and comply with the native title act requirements. We dissent from being forced to accept that the power and privilege of colonial common-law imposition and that its government processes have priority over our ancient customary sovereign law.

So from the perspective of Aboriginal values culture and original meeting, who are the dissenters us or QYAC, and what are they dissenting from?

Many of us travelled across country that included mining leases, the same as our ancestors, our entire lives, doing so from the basis and value of our Aboriginal meaning, legally trespassing on our own land, without having to obtain permission from the mining company, or from our being granted legal access from our willingness to accept and be compliant with native title requirements, not many fences existed, mostly gates on roads, mining lease boundaries were merely defined on common-law land tenure maps.

Many of us are also paining from the division that we believe has been caused by native title. I, as an Aboriginal man with a customary bloodline connection to the country in question have lodged many objections to the proposed changes to the island being planned to occur, but myself and many others’ opinions are not heard, we are deliberately excluded from QYAC and the state processes because of our conflicting opinions. Are Aboriginal people really in control of their lands by being allowed to have a say about what happens through the restricted voice of native title administration, or may the sense of control and having a say on land that through native title aboriginal people agree to common-law land tenure forms, be to our detriment and loss in the future?

Some of the prominent QYAC elders have never been fully committed or devoted to the Aboriginal struggle and the activism of the last century still existing up until now. They mostly become involved in the native title movements and the reality of their involvement was there was no struggle in their willingness to be able to compromise the meaning and values of Aboriginality willingly conforming and complying with the requirements of the native title act.

The chamber of commerce raise their concerns about process and proposals, but the truth is that it is not just the people who are coming from outside the Indigenous community that are having their ideas chopped down or not being listened to. A significant number of local Aboriginal residents are being subjected to the same sort of exclusion. The Island Fruit Barn owner’s comments are relevant. I agree with there being a mood of fear and uncertainty, and a need for greater focus on social violence, youth suicide, and addiction prevention.

With the Quampi Cultural Centre proposal, many Aboriginals have had no say. Quampi is a cultural resource (a shellfish), a cultural yurri of the Goenpul people. Has QYAC obtained the cultural permission of the Aboriginal people who are definitely Goenpul, to use the name of a yurri resource and to locate the proposal on Goenpul land, or do they think they have the right to plagiarise the cultural property that belongs to someone else?

There is no proper social economic or cultural address to all the other social economic aspects outside of the states ETS and QYAC’s priorities. The social economic and cultural priorities of the Aboriginal community have been disregarded.

There is no proper social economic, cultural address, all other aspects of economics outside of the ETS QYAC’s priorities. Employee disadvantages due to personal or family position and family group belonging, mistreatment, employment opportunity deprivation, grievance regarding administration, nepotism and coercion.

The privilege exchange of favour is believed by many of our minority to be a common practice of QYAC used to gain notoriety, possibly offering free or discounted accommodation through Minjerribah Camping, to QYAC members and possibly many others, possible travel costs support, and employment and contract opportunities, even through a recently established restaurant providing discounts of 15% for QYAC members and employees.

And as for Cameron Costello who is so confident and capable of convincing the general public that everything he’s doing is right and he has the support of his people, well I think he is a grande deceiver, I think that his role would be better played as a politician of the state. Maybe the Labour Party, upholding the rights and interests of colonial governments. I wonder if Aboriginal assimilation has been morally successful, creating many Aboriginal byproducts as a result of the foreign policies and law.

Is QYAC and Queensland Native Title becoming the colonial model for customary law extinguishment and common law validation legitimisation?

Dale Ruska
29 Dec 2019

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