In the 1960s some of the Martu (Indigenous people of the Western Desert in Western Australia) had no idea white men even existed.
Today, the Martu run their own organisation which controls an interactive suite of social, cultural and environmental programs, employs 300 Martu and 30 non-Martu people and manages land twice the size of the state of Tasmania.
“Through the Martu organisation, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), the Martu gain a great sense of pride and confidence,” said Zan King, General Manager of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa.
“They have control over their future and are employed in meaningful work directed by Martu, which resonates with their ancestral history of looking after country and culture for thousands of years.”
The KJ organisation, supported by BHP, was formed in 2005 after the Martu successfully sought and achieved Native Title of 13.5 million hectares of land in 2002.
Zan King started with KJ when it was a small organisation, focused mainly on return to country trips and land management, in 2008.
“I arrived with a two year stay in mind, but the Martu are so genuine and incredibly open people, who want to share their culture. The people and the environment get into your heart.”
As Muuki Taylor, a Martu elder said “Martu are strong. Martu have the knowledge. With KJ, Martu are looking after their country the right way.”
The KJ organisation is broken into three streams, land management, cultural and the recently formed leadership stream.
“The leadership program looks after governance, developing a better understanding of profit and not for profit organisations, how boards work and has a criminal justice stream, exploring diversionary programs around domestic violence and alcohol abuse.”
“Martu people control their own communities and are on local community boards and community schools. They interact with the criminal justice system and magistrates.
KJ runs a series of mock court sessions using traditional Martu Wangka language in an attempt to bridge the language and knowledge difficulties sometimes faced by Martu people.
“Martu people wanted to know how to be in control of the process and how to drive their agenda, because they recognise the need to be strong in both their world and the white fellas’ world, so that has been a driving force behind the growth and development of KJ.”
The open nature of the Martu people and their willingness to share their stories and culture has touched many since KJ was formed.
“They are just such a warm people, who have gone from a very traditional lifestyle to an incredibly modern lifestyle while never losing their strength and determination,” she said.
“The young Martu are very vocal about learning from their elders and the KJ organisation affords them the opportunity to travel in country, to ensure that continues to happen.”
BHP have partnered with KJ and Martu for more than ten years and have fostered a relationship built on trust, collaboration, patience and respect.
The outcomes delivered by the Martu people through this partnership have been nothing short of life changing. Social outcomes for Martu include an increase in employment opportunities, preservation of important cultural values and reconnection with culture, as well reduced levels of incarceration. In addition to this, there have been significant environmental outcomes through management of feral animals and threatened species and conservation and land management activities.
The partnership has enabled the Martu to return to their country and preserve their culture for generations to come and this has given them hope for the future.