The resources industry has always established itself on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land, largely at the expense of Indigenous peoples. It does not need to be this way. We want the rise of clean energy, which must now be the priority of all nations, to be different.
History provides salient lessons on how Indigenous peoples have been treated.
When the pearling industry first arrived across northern Australia, for example, Aboriginal women were enslaved to dive for pearl shell. The new federation of Australia, in cahoots with the pearl shell industry, used the White Australia Policy to confiscate Torres Strait Islander-owned pearl luggers, and put the Indigenous owners of these vessels to work on them for rations.
The cattle industry was no different. Aboriginal people were first enslaved at gunpoint to build the stockyards and homesteads. They were then enslaved to be domestics and cattle ringers in exchange for mere rations. And the cattle still trample our land today.
Worst of all, arguably, is the mining and gas extraction industry. Mining companies have obliterated sacred sites and hunting grounds and become the masters at dividing traditional owners, pitting them against each other, and twisting the politicians and therefore the laws to support their immense profits.
Surely we can do better.
If ever there was an opportunity to reset how industry negotiates with traditional owners, it is now. The belated arrival of the clean energy revolution is here, along with an existential crisis. In the rush to build solar and wind farms, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must have a say.
Our lands and waters have an abundance of solar and wind power. From the outset, it must be understood that the sun on our Country and the winds that move through it belong to the custodians of that Country. We should self-determine if, where, and how these resources are utilised.
This week, we launch a new approach. We are establishing a First Nations Clean Energy Network which will partner with industry, investors, unions, academics and legal and technical experts to boost the capacity of our people to engage with governments and the renewable industry.
The network will be vital to resetting how we meet with energy stakeholders. We will meet at the negotiating table and work to realise greater outcomes in training and employment, protection of sacred sites, and financial benefit from the use of our lands and waters. Playing our part to protect Country from the impacts of climate change is also critical. My island home, for example, the Torres Strait Islands, are being lost to rising seas, and we may be the first climate refugees in the country.
As always, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not waiting for others to do something for us. We didn't wait for a change of heart from government and non-Indigenous people to break out of slavery, to regain our luggers, to not have our sacred sites destroyed against our wishes. We walked and we marched and we organised. And now, for clean energy in our communities and our world, we will organise again.
- Thomas Mayor is a Kaurareg Aboriginal and Erubamle, Kalkalgal Torres Strait Islander. He is the national Indigenous officer of the Maritime Union of Australia, an advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and an author. His most recent book is Dear Son - Letters and reflections from First Nations fathers and sons.