One of Queensland’s largest Aboriginal tribes, the Wik and Wik Way people, has moved to abandon a decades-old alliance and break away from the Cape York Land Council.
Traditional owners, elders and directors of the Wik’s own native title body, Ngan Aak Kunvh, yesterday voted to sack the powerful umbrella organisation and “stand on its own feet’’.
The decision delivers a major blow to the Cape York Land Council, headed by Richie Ahmat, which is behind Australia’s biggest and ongoing native title claim covering the 14.6 million hectares of land not already under native title on the peninsula, in far north Queensland.
It comes as the Palaszczuk Labor government reviews last year’s decision by its predecessors, the Newman government, to name Swiss mining giant Glencore as the preferred proponent to develop the massive bauxite deposit on Wik country, on the western side of Cape York. The tender was awarded over another company, Australian Bauxite Developments, which purports to be involved in a joint venture with traditional owners to give the Wik equity in the proposed mine.
Glencore has since been frozen out of negotiations with the traditional owners, and the land council is backing the proposal of ABD, which last year signed an indigenous land use agreement over the proposed mine with NAK.
Traditional owners and directors of NAK yesterday said the agreement was not supported by many Wik people, including those who have native title over the bauxite area, and the land council was improperly favouring ABD.
Mr Ahmat did not return calls from The Australian.
Wik spokesman Bruce Martin, a member of the Prime Minister’s indigenous advisory council, said traditional owners no longer wanted to rely on an outside organisation to manage their affairs.
Mr Martin said the land council should have allowed Glencore to negotiate with traditional owners and discuss their proposal for the mine, estimated to be worth more than $20 billion.
“We need good, independent commercial and legal advice and my belief is that the land council has not been entirely independent in all of this,’’ he said.
“If ABD genuinely has the best offer for the Wik, why couldn’t it and Glencore’s offer be held up against the light and assessed against each other.’’
The land council was formed in the early 1990s as the Wik and Wik Way people began their fight for native title, becoming one of Australia’s longest court battles with the first determination made in 1996 and the last in 2012.
The umbrella organisation represents other native title bodies throughout the Cape York peninsula, but Wik traditional owners and NAK director Roy Chevathen, whose family was among the claimants in the original 1996 High Court determination, said it was time “to move on’’.
“They make the decisions for us and then tell us about them and that’s not what we want from our consultants and legal advisers,’’ he said