Traditional burials should not need Govt blessing, land councils

Traditional owners identifying unmarked graves in Barunga last year. Picture: supplied.
Traditional owners identifying unmarked graves in Barunga last year. Picture: supplied.

Two influential NT land councils have criticised the NT Government over new laws they say fails to recognise the importance of customary burials on their country.

The Northern and Central land councils today both expressed their disappointment with the the NT Legislative Assembly's Social Policy Scrutiny Committee failure to address concerns raised by Aboriginal people about the Burial & Cremation Bill 2019.

The land councils have asked the government to reconsider its position.

The Bill provides for the declaration and management of cemeteries for the burial of human remains, the licensing and management of facilities for the disposal of human remains, and for related purposes.

Last week the committee handed down its report recommending the passing of the Bill.

The report rejected all recommendations from submissions by Aboriginal groups and endorsed passage of the Bill without amendment.

The NLC said it supported comments by Nhulunbuy MLA Yingiya Guyula, that the Bill does not properly recognise the importance to Aboriginal people of customary burials on their land.

NLC chief executive officer Marion Scrymgour said Aboriginal people should not need to seek permission for traditional burials on their country.

"Traditions around funerals and burials are of great importance to the NLC's constituents. This includes an obligation among many clan groups as to where ceremonies and burials must take place," Ms Scrymgour said.

"It is appropriate that an Act first drafted in 1952 be given a comprehensive overhaul.

"However, while the proposed legislation addresses a number of administrative problems with the Act it fails to account for contemporary Aboriginal culture in a way that we would expect in 2019. The Legislation should be able to respect the rights and culture of Aboriginal people while meeting the needs of government."

She also said it was ridiculous for any government to consider a prison term was appropriate for a burial carried out in accordance with Aboriginal tradition.

"If the government goes along with the recommendation of the Social Policy Scrutiny Committee to pass the bill without the amendments Aboriginal people are seeking, it will have to answer to their elected representatives," CLC chief executive officer Joe Martin-Jard said.

Mr Martin-Jard said Aboriginal people want to follow their traditions when burying their loved ones on their homelands and outstations, without undue interference from a passing parade of powerful public servants.

"Our members believe the draft bill gives too much power to unelected officials who will be able to threaten people with jail or fines of tens of thousands of dollars for burying their loved ones on their land, in accordance with their customs."

Mr Martin-Jard said CLC members don't object to sensible restrictions for health and safety reasons - for example, no burials near drinking water sources and houses - but they don't believe bereaved people should have to appeal to the NT Civil and Administrative Tribunal to get bureaucratic decisions overturned.

"It is just heartless to put people through this when they are grieving," he said.

The NT Government previously said the existing Cemeteries Act was developed in 1952 and has been revised to better reflect the needs and wishes of the NT community regarding burials, cremation and the handling of loved ones' remains.

This story Traditional burials should not need Govt blessing, land councils first appeared on Katherine Times.