Quantcast

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

Energy
Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group. Wangan and Jagalingou

By Noni Austin

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia's failure to protect their fundamental human rights.


A company called Adani Mining Pty Ltd, part of the Adani Group of companies founded by an Indian billionaire named Gautam Adani, is determined to build the massive Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project on the Wangan and Jagalingou's ancestral homelands. If built, the Carmichael Coal Mine would be among the largest coal mines in the world, with six open-cut pits and five underground mines, as well as associated infrastructure like rail lines, waste rock dumps and an airstrip.

Coals mine are immensely destructive: The Carmichael mine would permanently destroy vast areas of the Wangan and Jagalingou's ancestral homelands and waters, and everything on and in them—sacred sites, totems, plants and animals. It would also likely destroy the Wangan and Jagalingou's most sacred site, Doongmabulla Springs, an oasis in the midst of a dry land. The development of the mine would also result in the permanent extinguishment under Australian law of the Wangan and Jagalingou's rights in a part of their ancestral homelands.

The Wangan and Jagalingou's lands and waters embody their culture and are the living source of their customs, laws and spiritual beliefs. Their spiritual ancestors—including the Mundunjudra (Rainbow Serpent), who travelled through Doongmabulla Springs to shape the land—live on their lands.

Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands.Wangan and Jagalingou

As Wangan and Jagalingou authorized spokesperson and cultural leader Adrian Burragubba said, "Our land is our life. It is the place we come from, and it is who we are. Plants, animals and waterholes all have a special place in our land and culture and are connected to it."

Consequently, the destruction of the Wangan and Jagalingou's lands and waters is the destruction of their culture. If their lands are destroyed, they will be unable to pass their culture on to their children and grandchildren, and their identity as Wangan and Jagalingou will be erased.

Murrawah Johnson, authorised youth spokesperson of the Wangan and Jagalingou, said, "In our tribe, women teach our stories to our young people. I want my children and their children to know who they are. And if this mine proceeds and destroys our land and waters, and with it our culture, our future generations will not know who they are. Our people and our culture have survived for thousands of years, and I cannot allow the Carmichael mine to destroy us. I will not allow myself to be the link in the chain that breaks."

The Wangan and Jagalingou have consistently and vehemently opposed the Carmichael mine, rejecting an agreement with Adani Mining on four occasions since 2012. Throughout its dealings with the Wangan and Jagalingou, Adani Mining has used the coercive power of Australian legislation and acted in bad faith, holding fraudulent meetings and manipulating the Wangan and Jagalingou's internal decision-making processes.

In these circumstances, the development of the Carmichael mine violates the Wangan and Jagalingou's internationally protected human rights, including the right to continue practicing their culture and to use and control their ancestral homelands, as well as the right to be consulted in good faith and to give or withhold their consent to mining projects on their lands.

A man participates in a ceremonial dance on Wangan and Jagalingou ancestral lands.Wangan and Jagalingou

Despite the Wangan and Jagalingou's persistent objections and their pleas to the Australian and Queensland governments to protect their human rights, both governments have approved the mine and publicly support it, and Adani Mining remains steadfastly determined to develop the project as soon as possible. The Wangan and Jagalingou have also brought litigation in Australia to protect their homelands, but have been unsuccessful to date because Australian law allows private companies and the government to override the Wangan and Jagalingou's rights in their ancestral lands.

Now, to protect their fundamental human rights, the Wangan and Jagalingou have been forced to seek help from a United Nations human rights watchdog. Recently, the Wangan and Jagalingou asked the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to urgently ensure Australia protects their homelands and culture. The committee is the enforcement body of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty Australia has signed. The convention is one of the core international treaties among the world's nations that protect our most basic human rights, including Indigenous peoples' rights to culture and land.

If Australia will not listen to its own people, the Wangan and Jagalingou hope it will listen to international community and cease prioritizing the profits of a foreign company over the permanent loss of a people who have been connected to the land since time immemorial.

Adrian Burragubba provides cultural teachings to Wangan and Jagalingou young men on their ancestral lands. Wangan and Jagalingou

Earthjustice assisted the Wangan and Jagalingou to prepare their request for urgent action to the UN.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Joe Vukovich

Under the guise of responding to consumer complaints that today's energy- and water-efficient dishwashers take too long, the Department of Energy has proposed creating a new class of dishwashers that wouldn't be subject to any water or energy efficiency standards at all. The move would not only undermine three decades of progress for consumers and the environment, it is based on serious distortions of fact regarding today's dishwashers.

Read More Show Less

By Emily Moran

If you have oak trees in your neighborhood, perhaps you've noticed that some years the ground is carpeted with their acorns, and some years there are hardly any. Biologists call this pattern, in which all the oak trees for miles around make either lots of acorns or almost none, "masting."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

By Catherine Davidson

Tashi Yudon peeks out from behind a net curtain at the rooftops below and lets out a sigh, her breath frosting on the windowpane in front of her.

Some 700 kilometers away in the capital city Delhi, temperatures have yet to dip below 25 degrees Celsius, but in Spiti there is already an atmosphere of impatient expectation as winter settles over the valley.

Read More Show Less

The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington is looking to recruit 10,000 dogs to study for the next 10 years to see if they can improve the life expectancy of man's best friend and their quality of life, as CNN reported.

Read More Show Less
Warragamba Dam on Oct. 23 in Sydney, Australia. Sydney's dams have been less than 50 percent full as drought conditions continue across New South Wales. Brook Mitchell / Getty Images

While Sydney faced "catastrophic fire danger" for the first time earlier this week, and nearly 130 wildfires continue to burn in New South Wales and Queensland, Sydney now faces another problem; it's running out of water.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
The European Investment Bank will stop lending for fossil fuel projects. ForgeMind Archimedia / CC BY 2.0

By Eoin Higgins

Climate activists celebrated Thursday the decision of the European Investment Bank to stop funding most oil and coal projects by 2021, part of a bid to be the world's first "climate bank."

Read More Show Less
Campaigners from Friends of the Earth Scotland gather to demand clean air in August 2015. MAVERICK PHOTO AGENCY / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Air pollution particles from motor vehicle exhaust have been linked to brain cancer for the first time, researchers at McGill University in Montreal say.

Read More Show Less
A measure that would fine parents who refuse to vaccinate their children passed Germany's parliament Thursday. Self Magazine / CC BY 2.0

A measure that would fine parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for measles close to $2,800 passed Germany's parliament Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Read More Show Less