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What Is Sacred?

Max “Duramunmun” Harrison, an elder of the Yuin Nation of Southeast Australia, explains why Aboriginal understandings of the land have no credibility in wider Australian society. Developers refuse to respect sacred land when they cannot see what is sacred about it. But Max asks, is sacredness something to be seen with the eyes or something to be felt and lived?

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FMG Damaging Sacred Sites


MARK COLVIN: An Indigenous group from the Pilbara has gone to Canberra with its claim that the Fortescue Metals Group is destroying sacred sites. The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says Andrew Forrest’s ore company has desecrated an ochre quarry and destroyed part of a creek where stones are gathered for initiation ceremonies.
It’s called on the Federal Environment Minister to invoke emergency powers and protect sacred sites. The mining company has rejected the Aboriginal corporation’s claims, and described them as “offensive”.
David Weber reports.
DAVID WEBER: The Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation says it wants the Federal Environment Minister to protect what it calls “living heritage”. The corporation’s chief executive, Michael Woodley says the creek where sacred stones are found is important to maintaining culture.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: This particular area that sits on Yindjibarndi country, relates to the ceremony that we practice back home. If we don’t protect these sites and no one in this house cares to help us, then we can see our heritage wiped from the face of this earth forever.
DAVID WEBER: In a statement, the Environment Minister Tony Burke has said the application needs to go through a process under law. Mr Burke also says it will take some time to consider the matters raised and he’s offered a similar meeting with Fortescue.
But Michael Woodley says time is running out.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: We told him we would like to have a timeline in terms of when he would get back to us. We did raise that issue to him and said look it’s very concerning to us that while you sit on it and go through this process, that might take anywhere from four to five weeks, there are heritage being destroyed as we speak.
DAVID WEBER: An archaeologist contracted by FMG has claimed that she was pressured to alter surveys and reports. The company has said it only called for the correction of unqualified commentary, and in any case, both the original and new reports were submitted to the Department of Indigenous Affairs. The company has said it would cooperate with any investigation.
Michael Woodley says he spoke about the broader issue with Mr Burke today.
MICHAEL WOODLEY: We’ve touched on the overall situation that there are concerns from archaeologists and anthropologists in submitting reports, that some of them lacked the proper details for the ACMC (Aboriginal Cultural Materials Committee) or the Department of Indigenous Affairs to make a proper decision about the sites.

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