Native title battle nears close

NATIVE title rights for indigenous people on the Far West Coast will be recognised in a Federal Court hearing at Lake Pidinga, north of Yalata today.

This claim is the largest native title claim in South Australia, and covers 80,000 kilometres from the Western Australian border, to Tarcoola in the north and Streaky Bay in the south.

This includes several Aboriginal Lands Trust holdings such as Yalata and Koonibba communities, over which exclusive native title rights will be recognised.

Justice John Mansfield will make a Consent Determination over claims from the Far West Coast claim group to recognise native title rights and interests in the area.

This determination comes after nearly 18 years of struggle by the Wirangu, Kokatha, Mirning and Anangu people.

The claims of the different groups involved have formerly overlapped before they were consolidated into one claim in January 2006 after 10 years of mediation.

Far West Coast Native Title Claim solicitor Osker Linde said this was a hugely important event.

"It's the culmination of 17 years of legal process through the Federal Court to get native title recognition," he said.

"The fact their culture is still alive and strong is a testament to elders past and present.

"They've had to claim their rights and interests in land through the Federal Court, and after 17 years of struggle, this recognition is an event of immense importance."

The Consent Determination also includes vast areas of national parks including Yumbarra Conservation Park, Yellabinna Regional Reserve and Nullarbor Regional Reserve.

The Far West group have reached an agreement with the state government to co-manage these areas.

The determination also gives the group rights to access and camp on the area, teach and conduct ceremonies, and protect sites of significance in the area.

Far West Coast Traditional Lands Association chairperson Basil Coleman said this was a great step forward for the Aboriginal people of the region.

"Our people have fought and worked hard for a long time for this recognition and it provided us with the capacity to have greater control over our land and communities for future generations," he said.

"It gives us credibility and respect in the business world and with governments, and ensured the preservation of our culture and land in accordance with our traditional law and practices."

A dinner will be held at Lake Pidinga the night before the hearing, with official proceedings to begin at 2pm, after which speeches will be given by representatives of the state government, Iluka Resources and the Far West Coast Corporation.

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