Indigenous issues

Impact of mining and nuclear projects on Australia's indigenous communities.

Uranium mines in so many cases are on indigenous lands, and Australia is no exception. Narbarlek, Ranger, Roxby Downs and Beverley have all impacted on the indigenous people of this country.

Any consideration of an expansion for uranium mining and nuclear projects in Australia must fully consider the disproportionate impact of these on indigenous communities and seek full and informed consent from all of those in these communities. To be truly "informed", decision making processes must take into account the disadvantages already experienced by that community. 

There are numerous examples of how the nuclear industry has been resisted by indigenous communities in Australia. One is the example of the proposed uranium mine in Jabiluka in the Northern Territory. The  Traditional Owners, the Mirrar people, resisted this intrusion into their country and won, although their resistance continues necessarily today as the uranium deposit at Jabiluka is large and nuclear industry interest has not waned. The cultural, social and health consequences of the Ranger mine undoubtably informed their decision and helped them to take their strong and patient position, which they pursued peacefully through harnessing a broad cross-section of the Australian and international community through legal means, diplomacy, education and lobbying efforts over many years.

The outstanding Kungka Tjuta women's group of South Australia, whose terrible introduction to the power of the atom was the Maralinga and Emu Plains nuclear tests, demonstrated how they want no more to do with the nuclear fuel chain when they successfully resisted the establishment of a national radioactive waste dump on their land.

The short-term vision (with long-term problems) of most nuclear projects clashes with the very nature of traditional custodial care and management of country inherent in traditional indigenous communities. In terms of assessment, indigenous people are not provided with processes to input through traditional knowledge systems and this further disenfranchises them from the process. Therefore the impact of proposals and the lack of consideration for their traditional knowledge and concerns marginalises them further.

This is eloquently outlined by Yvonne Margarula, Mirrar Senior Traditional Owner in a submission to the 2005-2006 parliamentary inquiry into Australia's uranium industry, which read in part:

"Everyone seems to be only concerned with what is happening today or next year, yet no scientist can tell us what will happen at the mine site in a hundred years time when they are all gone and no-one cares. Again it will only be the Mirrar people looking after that place as we have done for thousands of years."