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Yirrkala Petition (Elcho Island Petition) presented to Prime Minister John Howard in 1998

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Letter to the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia on traditional Yolngu Law

We, the undersigned, are dalkarra and djirrikay (the political representatives and leaders) of our sovereign clan/nations comprising all the Yolngu (Aboriginal people) within this Miwatj region of North-East Arnhem Land.

We bring to you our diplomatic request
from: the Njarra' /traditional Parliaments of our clan/nation estates
to: the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia.

We request that you recognise:

  1. the Dhulkmu-mulka Bathi (Title Deeds) which establish the legal tenure for each of our traditional clan estates.
    Your Westminster system calls this Native Title.
  2. the jurisdiction of our Njarra' /Traditional Parliament in the same way as we recognise your Parliament and Westminster system of Government.
  3. both formally and legally recognise our Madayin system of law.
    Within our Madayin there are three different levels of Government that provide for the peace, order and good government of the people/citizens:
    i. Open or public ceremonies where all citizens may be present.
    ii. Semi-Public chambers of law where only certain parts of the legal procedures may be conducted in public;
    iii. Closed / restricted chambers of law which may only be attended by those political leaders who represent the citizens.

The colonisation of this land and the imposition of a foreign system of law has not prevented Yolngu from holding, maintaining and continuing to assent to our traditional system of law. This is our Common Law right which the High Court of Australia has partially recognised. As citizens our rights must be protected at law.

In 1967 the Commonwealth of Australia belatedly recognised our citizenship of this land, Australia. However, we were already citizens of this land, recognised by our Madayin.

In the face of many imposed obstacles and pressures we still continue to educate our children and future leaders, manage our estates, engage in economic and diplomatic exchanges between clans/nations, discipline offenders, care for our sick and elderly and practice hospitality to foreigers who live on or visit our yirralka (estates).

There must be dialogue between the two systems of law because Yolngu law, like your law, is based on the key principles of mawaya (peace and justice), dhapirrk (consistency between different levels of law) and wana-lupthun (the assent of the rom-watanju walal/citizens, to those laws).

We extend to you, the Honourable Leaders of the Commonwealth of Australia, our invitation to come to a meeting where we can discuss these issues in much greater depth so that together we can forge a partnrship of co-operation and dialogue based on mutual trust and respect for each other's law. Without this recognition we will live in perpetual dependence in this land that is ours by birthright, silenced and oppressed by a foreign system of law.

Presented to the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Howard MHR, at Yirrkala on 27 February 1998 on behalf of the following clan/nations of the Miwatj region:

Rirratjinju, Gumatj, Galpu, Madarrpa, Djapu, Manjgalili, Marrakulu, Munyuku, Dhalamju, Dhudi-Djapu, Wangurri, Datiwuy, Njaymil, Djambarrpuymju, Warramiri, Goulumala, Ritharrmju, Marranju, Dhapuynju, Gupapuynju, Djarrwark.

Last updated: 7th January 2008

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