United Nations led by traditional owners fighting to save the country

From Western Australia to the rest of the world, two Aboriginal women have come to the United Nations to try to save ancient rock art.

Mardudhunera women Raelene Cooper and Josie Alec appeared before the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples this week.

The couple have fought to stop the Woodside gas project in Scarborough, which could lead to the destruction of sacred 70,000-year-old rock art.

Go to the UN

Ms Cooper, a former board member of the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation, spoke on Tuesday evening, with Ms Alec speaking the following day.

In their speeches, the pair said they had come “to raise awareness of the destruction and desecration that the industry has already inflicted and intends to inflict on Murujuga and the sacred rock art that is there”.

“Government and industry acquired land under duress, creating division and chaos. Industry removed and destroyed our rock art in another form of cultural genocide,” Ms Cooper said.

“It has caused the loss of our traditional livelihoods, our traditional indigenous knowledge and our spiritual relationship with the land. There has been displacement and ecological degradation.”

Ms Cooper said it was ‘alarming’ to see how government and industry are using ‘ngaurra’ (Mother Earth) to release harmful greenhouse gases and pointed to the gender-based violence linked to the issue.

“The cultural integrity and survival of First Nations peoples, especially Indigenous women, are directly threatened. Our knowledge, practices and heritage have been appropriated and misused. All of this puts Indigenous women and girls at greater risk of gender-based violence and racism. she says.

“The participation of women in the heritage survey and approval process is essential to ensure that women’s cultural sites are identified and recorded before approvals are considered.

“That didn’t happen in Murujuga.

Ms Alec acknowledged the gag clauses that silence traditional owners, whom the Juukan Gorge Senate inquiry called for withdrawing from industry agreements.

“The principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent in the UN Declaration is not upheld – not on the Burrup or anywhere in Western Australia. This despite the industry claiming it is ‘guided by the UN Declaration in its own policy,” she says.

She called on the United Nations to, within the framework of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, hold “Australian governments and companies to account” and move up the “World Heritage List”.

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The endangered site

Murujuga, also known as the Burrup Peninsula, is home to over a million petroglyphs and rock art carvings estimated to be over 70,000 years old.

The site, which is nominated for inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, is adjacent to the country’s largest gas and fertilizer producers.

Last week, despite pleas from traditional owners, the Environmental Protection Authority of Western Australia’s Woodside North West Shelf project continued operations until 2070.

The EPA has recommended that emissions that could damage nearby rock art be reduced by 40% over the next eight years.

Ms Cooper feels the recommendations were not good enough, she and 27 other Traditional Owners have written an open letter to the WA Government and Woodside.

In the letter, the traditional owners said they had not been “adequately consulted and did not consent” to the development.

They asked Woodside to suspend investment in projects in Murujuga that have seen traditional owners “gagged for speaking out” and to suspend further decisions on the project.

They called on the WA government and Premier Mark McGowan to remove gag clauses from state agreements, provide independent funding to the Murujuga Aboriginal Corporation to enable independent heritage management and suspend project approvals in waiting.

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