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Deusdedit Ruhangariyo
Special to Indian Country Today

Around the world: A large island in Australia will return to Aboriginal ownership while Indigenous surfing titles returned to another region of the country, an Indigenous community files a lawsuit to stop a proposed coal mine in Thailand, and a Māori council member in New Zealand makes a bid to become his city’s first Māori mayor.

AUSTRALIA: Sydney Harbor island set to return to Indigenous control

New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet has announced that the government has committed $43 million to the clean-up and repair of Me-Mel, also known as Goat Island, before it is handed over to its Indigenous owners, The Guardian reported on May 28.

The funds will help in repairing seawalls and buildings, improving wharf access, upgrading services and removing contaminants such as asbestos over the next four years. It is the largest island in Sydney Harbor, The Guardian reported.

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"A big part of my commitment is ensuring the island is remediated before it's transferred to the Aboriginal community," Perrottet said, according to The Guardian. "This island has been dormant for many, many years...but we've not made any steps forward until today."

The transfer of Me-Mel to Aboriginal ownership is expected to be completed within four years. A committee that includes Aboriginal people and New South Wales government officials are working to handle the transfer.

"This is the cultural sacrament place of the Eora — this is the dreaming place for Sydney," said Nathan Moran, chief executive of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

"To honour its importance, its significance, and to become an Aboriginal place again where we as First Nations will be able to preserve and protect the cultural story of Sydney, and also share that with others, is for us ultimately what it's all about — trying to keep our place in society, maintain our identity and our culture,” he said.

THAILAND: Lawsuit challenges coal mine project

The Indigenous Karen community in the Omkoi district in Thailand has filed a lawsuit against the government, seeking revocation of an environmental impact assessment of a proposed coal mine project, Mongabay.com reported on May 27.

Members of the Kabeudin village, an Indigenous community of 600 people in the Chiang Mai province, filed the lawsuit in April against the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning and the Expert Review Committee, saying that the environmental impact analysis was outdated and approved with little to no participation from the communities that will be impacted.

The community contends the mine would destroy farmland, disturb waterways and cause long-term health problems, Mongabay.com reported.

The coal mine project has been under discussion between the Thai-owned Thuwanon Company and government officials, but villagers only found out about it in 2019. They formed the Omkoi Anti-Coal Mine Network to fight the project.

“The Kabeudin community has the fundamental right to oppose the coal mine,” said Tara Buakamsri, director of Greenpeace Thailand, according to Mongabay.com. “They are telling the truth to power.”

NEW ZEALAND: Councilman could be his town's first Māori mayor

A first-term councilman in New Plymouth, New Zealand, is making a bid to become the town’s first Māori mayor, Te Ao Maori News reported on May 30.

Dinnie Moeahu,who is completing a master's degree in Māori and Indigenous leadership studies through the University of Canterbury, said two reasons motivated him to run – the first being widespread support in the community.

“The second and critically important one was my family,” he said, using the Māori word, whanau, for extended family, who helped him make the decision to run for the job.

He said it would be historic and humbling to be the first Māori mayor.

“I believe in the best of who we are as a community,” he said.

AUSTRALIA: Surfing titles return to Wadawurrung Country

Australian Indigenous surfing titles made a triumphant return at Djarrk (Bells Beach) in Wadawurrung Country with athletes performing across 10 competitions, National Indigenous Television reported on May 30.

Finn Hill and Jaz McCorquodale dominated the men’s and women's open competitions, respectively.

McCorquodale, who hasn’t been able to compete for a few years, said the win was “special.”

“I’m so stoked,” she said. “I’m so glad we got some waves to showcase how amazing we surf as a culture and as a group … There was definitely a hole in my surfing heart the last few years when we weren’t able to come down to Bells… To be able to surf on Wadawurrung Country is incredible.”

Hill agreed, saying it was an honor to win at Djarrk.

“It’s really special to represent my heritage at this event,” he said. “It’s such a strong community and a special way to celebrate it.”

Final thoughts

My final thoughts are with the 600 villagers of the Kabeuden village who have filed a lawsuit over a proposed coal mine project. Their rights must be respected.

And finally, let me share with you Article 40 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Article 40
Indigenous peoples have the right to access to and prompt decision through just and fair procedures for the resolution of conflicts and disputes with States or other parties, as well as to effective 27 remedies for all infringements of their individual and collective rights. Such a decision shall give due consideration to the customs, traditions, rules and legal systems of the indigenous peoples concerned and international human rights. 

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Global Indigenous is a weekly news roundup published every Wednesday by Indian Country Today with some of the key stories about Indigenous peoples around the world.

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