NAIDOC Week 2022 Feature: Cultural Heritage Protection

Posted: July 8th, 2022

Today, YMAC acknowledges and pays tribute to the many strong leaders in our regions – past, present, and emerging – who Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! for improved cultural heritage protections. Today we highlight the outstanding efforts of YMAC Deputy Co- Chairperson – Pilbara Region, Mrs Doris Eaton.

Mrs Eaton is a highly respected Njamal/Pitjakarli/Nyangumarta Elder from the Pilbara region. She was the first woman to be elected as Co-Chairperson of YMAC’s Board of Directors, and she retains a position as its Deputy Co-Chairperson to-date. Through these roles, she has evidenced her ardent leadership in myriad ways. However, we wish to focus on her immense contribution to the protection, preservation and promotion of Aboriginal culture and heritage; in particular, her actions as a driving force challenging planned changes to the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1972 over the years.

Following the introduction of both the Aboriginal Heritage Amendment Bill 2014 and then the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Bill 2021, Mrs Eaton strove to ensure other Aboriginal people were informed about what was being proposed and lead the charge in demanding their voices heard in response. As part of this work, she called for the reinstatement of the Yule River Bush Meetings, championed a 1,600-signature strong petition opposing amendments, headed Traditional Owner delegations to Parliament, facilitated community information sessions, and lead protest demonstrations in Perth and the Pilbara.

Through her actions, Mrs Eaton has played a pivotal role in heightening engagement of other Aboriginal people on this important issue and advocating that any introduced changes function to empower Traditional Owners and their decision-making in all matters affecting them. Her primary objectives are to safeguard an enduring legacy underpinned by proper, genuine consultation and the necessity for Aboriginal people to determine best practices for conserving and managing their cultural heritage, including sites of significance; with this all aligning with her overall goal to promote the uniqueness and importance of Aboriginal Law, customs and practices, and the opportunities and benefits of uniting these with mainstream systems and processes could produce.

Speaking about what has motivated her the most, Mrs Eaton has said:

“I am my father’s daughter; he inspired me through his involvement in the 1946 Pilbara Strike. Through his encouragement, and that from my cultural Law Elders, I wanted to be a role model too. Now, I want to see our younger people stepping up, and I want to help guide them, so they can continue this important journey.

I want part of my legacy to be about how I stood up for our sites of significance, our cultural heritage, our spiritual connection to Country, and did what I could to protect it all for future generations.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are advised that this article may contain images of deceased people.