Land Rights at work: Aboriginal people and regional economies

Land Rights at work: Aboriginal people and regional economies Book Section

Our land is our life: Land Rights - past, present and future

  • Author(s): Ah Kit, John
  • Secondary Author(s): Yunupingu, Galarrwuy
  • Published: 1997
  • Publisher: University of Queensland Press

Abstract: Influential indigenous leaders provide analyses and reveal their passions for their people and land, and for the Australia we all want to call home. The book is inspired by the 20th anniversary of the Aboriginal Land Rights (N.T.) Act, and coincides with the final year for lodgement of claims. As the ground is shifting beneath indigenous Australia, in a political sense, there is an even greater need to stand firm on the central issue of land rights. To forsake our land is to deny not just ourselves but also the future of Australia, socially, environmentally and culturally.

Notes: The book's main focus is on issues surrounding Aboriginal Land Rights, however there are some relevant chapters including this one. The book is available in the Business Library at Reid, UWA. Author of this chapter = John Ah Kit, MLA Northern Territory Shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The author's introduction discusses his views on the re-establishment of economic independence for indigenous people by a departure from welfare dependence and social and economic control. An idea of moving towards a situation where the sovereignty of Aboriginal people is marked by control of their lives, lands and communities through a dynamic approach to commercial enterprise through engagement with capitalism. The author then describes the interrelationship between mining companies and indigenous people pre-1980s. Followed by acknowledgement of the fact that after the 1980s there were mining companies talking to Land Councils and traditional Aboriginal land owners. He claimed that they have been pro-active in training and employment deals, and have respected traditional owners' concerns over sacred sites and hunting grounds and living areas. All resulting in an equal proportion of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal Land being under exploration in the Northern Territory. He then mentions the importance of Mabo decision and then discusses the positive outcomes of the Mt. Todd Agreement. Mt. Todd Agreement & the Jawoyn people This agreement is leading to a re-shaping of the labour market in the Katherine region. Aboriginal people occupy a third of the workforce at the mine (in comparison to only 1.9% proportion of Aboriginal people occupying the rest of the mining industry in the Territory). It is the only major non-Aboriginal private enterprise project in the entire Northern Territory (& perhaps in all of Australia) with such a high level of Aboriginal employment...a remarkable result achieved in a short time. The Jawoyn people have involved themselves with other investments eg the Nitmiluk Tours a 50:50 joint venture with Travel North, achieved from commercially rated loan funds. Author also comments that although there is a strong desire for Aboriginal people to wholly manage some commercial enterprises, there is not the capital base, collective skills or knowledge available to do so in the immediate future. But agreements can be used to utilise the skills of others eg Tiwi Islands, Injinoo, Nitmiluk, Ti-Tree joint ventures that play a significant role in Aboriginal engagements with capitalism. New dynamics can develop between indigenous Australians and non-indigenous capital. In remote regions, economic opportunities are scarce though. Aboriginal Role in Regional Economies Author reports that Aboriginal people can take greater control of economic planning. For eg in the author's own electorate of Arnhem, co-operative work has been undertaken between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people for the creation of the East Arnhem Business Strategy. Another development = a steering committee established by coastal people of Arnhem Land to resume greater control of marine resources. The author comments on research done in 1996 by the Northern Land Council (NLC) resulting in figures that showed one quarter of the economy of the Top End of the Northern Territory was contributed to by Aboriginal people (the same result was found by the Kimberley and Central Australian studies). He then comments on government budget cuts (from 1996/97) , and labour market program suspensions that has hit mining and tourist industries, and therefore affecting Aboriginal people...which will force them back on to the dole, back to welfare dependency. He goes further to claim that due to 2 centuries of impoverishment as a result of the loss of traditional economies, the needs for human and capital resources equal that of any Third World country. The author states that during his time at the Northern Land Council (NLC) and the Jawoyn Association, and then as a politician, he has witnessed an increased level of goodwill in the commercial world towards Aboriginal aspirations for economic advancement. Also, that Aboriginal groups are developing skills and resources necessary to engage equitably with the commercial world...all this has been possible due to Land Rights in the Northern Territory.

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Ah Kit, John, 1997, Land Rights at work: Aboriginal people and regional economies, Book Section, viewed 23 May 2024,

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