Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) have stepped up efforts to counter the claims made in a controversial clip of a native title meeting held in Roebourne last month by releasing their own video online.

On a website set up specifically to host the new video thetruenativetitlestory.com.au, Fortescue claim “The True Yindjibarndi Story” is a response to a “misleading, heavily edited video” and say it is “important that the facts are told”.

The retort comes after lawyers representing FMG and CEO Andrew Forrest sent legal notices last week to video hosting site Vimeo requesting it remove a video created by native title owners Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation (YAC) expressing concern over a native title meeting because it could “incite racial hatred”.

While it is unclear from the website who is exactly behind the new video, internal correspondence sent from within the iron ore giant (obtained by Crikey) confirms it is a Fortescue production. According to the email, the video was produced by the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi group and FMG to ensure their voice is “heard in this debate”.

“The people speaking in this video are Yindjibarndi,” thetruenativetitlestory.com.au says. “They formed another corporation called Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi as they believed the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation was not fairly representing their interests.”

Fortescue is currently engaged in a dispute with native title holders in the Pilbara over a land use agreement to build a new iron ore mine. For the project, FMG is offering the Yindjibarndi a $10.5 million package of cash, training, business development and housing, an package which YAC say is insufficient.

With negotiations at a stalemate, Forrest and a group of FMG lawyers and executives held a meetingin Roebourne last month in an attempt to secure an agreement with a breakaway group called the Wirlu Murra Yindjibarndi. In their video, entitled “FMG’s Great Native Title Swindle”, YAC express repeated concerns over how the meeting was conducted.

In Fortescue’s video, a number of Yindjibarndi people claim that the Wirlu Murra group was formed because YAC was not fairly representing their interests. The video also makes a number of assertions against Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley, including allegations of bullying. Some of those interviewed in the video want to accept FMG’s offer.

“FMG is just a mining company that come into this town to offer our people better things, offer our kids education, jobs, training and [YAC] just wants block all that for what, heaps of money?” one person says.

Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation CEO Michael Woodley says the video is a campaign by Fortescue to smear him.

“It’s a shame that my people are being pulled by the strings of Fortescue and forced into doing something that is continuing to divide this community,” he told Crikey. “I think they’ve been forced into trying to demonise Michael Woodley, I think if these members had concerns about me they had ample time to raise them.”

In a long internal email sent to mark the release of the video, FMG make a number of points about the YAC video which they say “sets the record straight”.

Until this point FMG has not publicly commented on the claims made in the video. In the email they say this has been a “deliberate” decision because the “false allegations were so numerous”. Now they say it is time to address “continued concerns” in the general community about the claims made in the YAC video.

The iron ore company have also taken out a number of paid Google ads on specific keywords such as ‘Fortescue native title meeting’ in an attempt to further publicise the video.

The original YAC video attracted 12,000 plays in nine days before being removed on Tuesday by video hosting site Vimeo in response to legal threats from Fortescue and Forrest. The video has since been uploaded to Youtube where it has received thousands more views.

Fortescue say their video has been forward on to politicians and community leaders to try to elicit support. Forrest been facing political heat over some of the allegations made in the video. On Thursday, WA opposition leader Eric Ripper put a number of questions to the state government about the video and Fortescue’s conduct, however they declined to comment.

Peter Fray

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