A Nyoongar Tent Embassy was established on Perth’s Heirisson Island on February 12 after the state government proposed to extinguish Nyoongar native title. The protesters made an urgent call for support after Perth City Council made its second threat to close the embassy down on February 17.
Many of those taking a leading role in the Embassy are local Aboriginal activists recently returned from the 40-year commemoration of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra.
Many Nyoongars have been outraged by WA premier Colin Barnett’s plans to make a $1 billion deal with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC).
The deal would mean Nyoongar people agree to the complete and permanent surrender of all native title claims.
Prominent Aboriginal organiser Marianne Mackay said from the embassy: “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 says its objective is for sovereignty and has rejected any deals with the government that involve ceding rights over land.
Elders, activists and local Nyoongar people have camped at the site every night. The island is an important traditional meeting place. “We'll be here as long as it takes,” said elder Uncle Ben Taylor in an interview with 7:30 journalists.
On February 16, council officers came to issue an eviction notice but left after being told they were not welcome. Early on February 17, City of Perth CEO Frank Edwards approached the Embassy, where he tossed the council’s eviction notices onto the ground.
Embassy representatives told Green Left Weekly it is improper for Edwards, as representative of a foreign government, to litter their embassy. Council representatives told media that the embassy would have “until the end of the day”.
Barnett backed the council’s attempt to evict the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. He said on February 17: “They have made their point. They've been allowed to stay there for a few days but they will not be allowed to stay there on a continuing basis. If they don't move on, ultimately the police will move them on.”
But Tent Embassy spokesperson Robert Eggington told AAP: “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 also said police had no right to take down the Tent Embassy. “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?”
Another Tent Embassy protester, Greg Martin, told AAP: “Customary law supersedes Crown law at this embassy. We reserve the right to diplomatic immunity, just like every other embassy around the planet.”