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Elders giving evidence in Fortescue compensation case

Two senior Yindjibarndi women have told the Federal Court about their connection to country at a hearing to decide how much compensation Fortescue Metals Group must pay for mining on their land.

Giving evidence in the town of Roebourne, in Western Australia's Pilbara, Yindjibarndi elder Tootsie Daniel said she was fortunate to learn culture from her old people when she was young.

Ms Daniel said her elders taught her about finding bush foods and medicines.

"When I looked at that country it was so beautiful, with wildflowers, it took my breath away," she said on Tuesday.

"It opened our hearts and the old people started singing corroboree songs.

"It was like the country welcomed us, the spirit of the land, our ngurra (country).

"I humbled myself, it brought tears to my eyes it was so beautiful. Now, looking at that same country breaks my heart, it's all barren because of that mining."

Earlier, Yindjibarndi elder Margaret Read told the court about her people's obligation.

"All Yindjibarndi people must look after our ngurra (country)," a visibly frail Ms Read said, speaking from her hospital bed in Karratha.

The Federal Court hearings, under Justice Debra Mortimer, mark the beginning of the final leg of the long-running native title dispute between Fortescue and the Yindjibarndi people over the Solomon iron ore hub in the Pilbara.

The Yindjibarndi people were awarded exclusive native title rights to their land, including where the Solomon hub sits, in 2017.

Fortescue began mining in 2013, but could not reach an agreement with the registered native title holders.

Fortescue has since exhausted all legal avenues of appeal, with the High Court in 2020 refusing the mining company special leave to appeal again and upholding a previous decision of the Federal Court.

Before the hearing, Yindjibarndi Ngurra Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Michael Woodley told AAP the elders' stories needed to be heard.

"For the Yindjibarndi and these elders giving evidence is a stand against injustice and tyranny," he said.

"We are demonstrating once again that equality and dignity for our people is one more fight in our path to overcome."

The case has caused rifts between family members, with Ms Read telling the court she had tried many different ways to mediate.

"I still feel devastated," she said.

In the early to mid 20th century many Yindjibarndi people were forced to move off country to the Two Mile Reserve, near Roebourne.

Ms Daniel said Yindjibarndi people had always wanted to return.

"We want to move back to country, that's what we fight for, but our homelands is where they remove iron ore and take it to other countries and that is wrong," she said.

"Our country has been disturbed and our hearts are broken."

The court convened special hearings for the two elders because they are both in poor health.

Further hearings have been scheduled in the Pilbara in August.