By Melanie Burton
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Western Australia state has agreed to compensate an Aboriginal group for historic acts including issuing mining leases on their traditional lands, setting a precedent that is set to allow Indigenous groups a greater say in future developments.
The state has been strengthening its laws to protect Indigenous cultural heritage since iron ore mining operations by Rio Tinto (NYSE:) three years ago destroyed historic rock shelters that showed human habitation dating back 46,000 years.
The Western Australian government said it had reached a “historic settlement” with the Tjiwarl people of the state’s northern Goldfield’s region for three native title compensation claims and had finalised an agreement for land use in future.
The state will pay the Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation A$25.5 million ($17.3 million) for acts such as approving roads and issuing leases that damaged or destroyed the group’s legal rights over their traditional lands.
The new agreement sets out a greater say for the Tjiwarl on future developments by miners and others on issues including water management and mining or petroleum leases, and removes the need for future compensation claims. It also returns some land parcels to Tjiwarl and expands the group’s conservation area.
Miners who had now settled their liabilities included Bellevue Gold.
BHP Group (NYSE:), which declined to comment, struck a land use agreement in 2018 for its nickel operations and was not part of the settlement. Its Mt Keith and Leinster nickel operations are on Tjiwarl lands. Comment was being sought from Bellevue.
“(The agreement) lays the foundation for a strong relationship between the WA Government and Tjiwarl Native Title holders into the future,” the state government said in a statement late on Wednesday.
Tjiwarl Aboriginal Corporation was pleased to have reached the settlement, Chief Executive Greg Ryan-Gadsden said in a statement.
“We are hopeful it provides a foundation to guide other native title groups to reach similar outcomes.”
Lawyer Malcolm O’Dell of Central Desert Native Title Services, who was involved in the negotiations, almost all the mining parties who may have had a liability as part of the original compensation claim have now settled that liability.
($1 = 1.4743 Australian dollars)
(This story has been officially corrected to remove Liontown as part of the litigation after clarification from the Central Desert Native Title Services in paragraph 6)
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