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'We want to live on our homelands'

ABORIGINAL people in Arnhem Land have sent a strong message to the Rudd Government, telling Environment Minister Peter Garrett they want to live on their ancestral homelands.

In private and public meetings, traditional owners told Mr Garrett they do not want their children growing up in larger communities that are racked by alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence.

Speaking on behalf of traditional owners, Dean Yibarbuk said the Government should recognise that Aboriginal people were healthier and happier living on their homelands.

The Federal and Northern Territory governments have announced plans to build new houses, schools, clinics and other infrastructure in regional growth hubs, which will starve hundreds of indigenous homelands or outstations of funding.

More than 10,000 people live on homelands in the territory.

Earlier this month, a group of traditional owners from the homelands travelled to Canberra to try to convince the Government to change its policy.

After a two-day visit to Arnhem Land, Mr Garrett acknowledged that an agreement the Government signed last week with traditional owners to establish two huge conservation reserves, known as Indigenous Protected Areas, would mean more Aborigines moving back to their ancestral lands.

The reserves will be managed by indigenous full-time rangers.

''It will mean more people will live on country than in the past,'' Mr Garrett said.

''But I think that is a good thing because, at the end of the day, healthy country means healthy people,'' he said.

Asked about the Government's lack of funding for homelands, Mr Garrett said he was in Arnhem Land to mark the declaration of the Djelk and Warddeken protected areas.

But he said was confident the reserves would open up the possibility of sustainable livelihoods in the homelands: ''There are opportunities for scientific research, for tourism and this will build a suite of skills, which in the long run will serve them [indigenous people] very well.''
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