“We are determined to keep fighting and to get more of what belongs to us: our rights to land”Cissy asks the government of Western Australia to stop undermining the land rights of Aboriginal people, bring essential services and opportunities to their lands, and pass a new cultural heritage legislation that gives authority to make decisions affecting their lives to the people.
Cissy is an Aboriginal woman from the Jaru and Kija groups who was born and raised in the East Kimberley region of Western Australia. She grew up seeing her elders fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people – and she is now one of many leading this fight. For Cissy, the fight for greater recognition of Aboriginal land rights is at an important point in time because the partial ‘Native Title’ land rights they currently have are not enough. “Governments in Australia seem scared to give Aboriginal people full rights to make decisions about their lands. We are a threat because we are vocal and demand our rights be respected. We are determined to keep fighting and to strip away the red tape that government uses to hold us back”. Land rights are extremely important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The connection to land is central to Aboriginal culture, identity and history. The ability to access land and to determine how it is managed has a direct impact on the ability to develop strong, sustainable communities, sustainable livelihoods and to protect important cultural heritage sites. Proposals to declare new conservation areas that will remove Native Title rights on these areas is just one example Aboriginal people in the Kimberley are currently resisting. Cissy explains “For Aboriginal people we must negotiate these issues with little or no funding from government for our organisations. We can sometimes feel like we are on our own”. The fight to achieve native title is a hard, long and very expensive journey and even a success does not guarantee people the right to have full control of their lands. As a land tenure, Native Title affords people very limited ability to control development and to create land-based income generation enterprises. But Cissy and her community, and many other similar communities across Australia will continue to fight for fairness, justice and equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.