Native title gives Indigenous non-exclusive rights to land

Bandjalang peoples who received the third and fourth native title determinations by the Federal Court of Australia in NSW's history at Evans Head.
Bandjalang peoples who received the third and fourth native title determinations by the Federal Court of Australia in NSW's history at Evans Head. Alex Utting

LAST Monday's Bandjalang native title determination marked a momentous moment in Northern Rivers history, but what does a grant of native title mean for the community?

According to the principal solicitor who worked on the Bandjalang native title case Mishka Holt, native title is defined as recognition by Australian law that a group of Indigenous people have rights and interests in the land and waters that derive from traditional laws and customs.

In most cases, a native title determination exclude privately owned land and Monday's decision was no exception.

The rights granted in Monday's determination are "non-exclusive rights".

Lismore-based sole practitioner Jeffrey McLaren has been involved in one of the Widjabul peoples native title claims said continued use of an Aboriginal Bora Ring at Tucki Tucki by bush walkers is an example of non-exclusive native title rights co-existing with other rights.

"Native title determinations don't stop other people going about their business, but they do recognise there have been owners of it before," he said.

Mr McLaren also said native title grants rights to "use" land rather than "own it".

This right to use land rather than own it is something significant to Aboriginal Culture.

"Native title is about recognition of previous ownership by Indigenous people and because they have a different concept about land ownership and land use, having right to use it rather than own it is sufficient," he said.

However, non-exclusive rights don't mean Aboriginal people have no say in what happens to the land.

Once a native title determination is awarded, the claimants continue to be consulted about issues that involve the use of the land.

"This could include the installation of powerlines, building of roads or subdivisions of land," Mr McLaren said.

"It doesn't stop those things from happening, but it allows Aboriginal people to be consulted."

In Monday's native title determination, the Bandjalang people had consulted with a number of parties to determine the terms of their land rights.

In most native title determinations, many solicitors who act for the claimants act for free either through Native Title Corporation, or of their own accord.

The solicitors who work for the state are paid by the public sector.

Topics:  native title

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