A Nyoongar Tent Embassy was established on Perth’s Heirisson Island this month in response to a Billion dollar proposal by the Western Australia government that would force the Nyoongar to surrender their land title, permanently.
For elders like Uncle Richard Wilkes, surrendering his custodianship of land is unthinkable, as the proposed deal, he says, won’t provide all the supposed benefits that the government promises.
Many of those involved in the Embassy are local Indigenous activists who just finished commemorating the 40th anniversary of the iconic Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of the Old Parliament House in Canberra.
Prominent Indigenous organizer Marianne Mackay said from the embassy last week: “We don’t agree with the SWALSC negotiations with the Barnett government. We don’t want money. We want our land, for our future. We are the custodians [of the land] and we have an obligation to protect it.”
The embassy is rejecting any kind of deal with the government that involves ceding land rights.
“Elders, activists and local Nyoongar people have camped at the site every night” since February 12, explains Green Left Weekly; “The island is an important traditional meeting place.”
Indigenous Activist Iva Hayward-Jackson speaking about the meaning and goals of the Nyoongar Tent Embassy established on February 12, 2012.
The City of Perth, however, considers the Nyoongar Tent Embassy to be illegal. On at least three separate occasions they have tried to shut it down.
On February 16, some council officers arrived with eviction notices; but they quickly left after being told that they weren’t welcome. The following day, City of Perth CEO Frank Edwards approached the Embassy on his own–and then tossed the eviction notices on the ground.
Speaking to AAP, Tent Embassy spokesperson Robert Eggington responded: “My message to the Perth City Council is move on yourself… This is not a camping ground. This is us practising our culture and our ceremonies on our traditional land of our ancestors.”
Eggington added that the police had no right to take the Tent Embassy down. “They’ll probably have to arrest the babies and the elders,” he said. “They’ll probably have to arrest every single person.”
“The jails are already chock-a-block full of Aboriginal people, so where are they going to fit us all?”
On February 19, more than 50 police officers arrived to carry out the eviction, leading to a false impression that the Tent Embassy was officially a thing of the past; however, as the Green Left Weekly noted two days later, that just wasn’t the case.
On February 23, the police arrived once again–this time, with a group of rangers to do the dirty work.
“When the protesters refused to dismantle their tents,” reports Adelaide Now, “rangers moved in to take them down as dozens of police officers stood by to prevent them being hindered.”
“The tents were packed onto a flat-bed truck and as it was driven off under police escort. Protesters chanted “shame, shame” and accused officers of being racist.
“An angry confrontation occurred when rangers next moved in to extinguish the main campfire as 30 police officers stood around them.
“Protesters jostled with police and shouted abuse as the rangers finished their job.
“Officers on horseback then moved in to escort the rangers and officers from the site.”
Despite the dismissal of the Nyoongar Tent Embassy, the Nyoongar have no intention of giving up.
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