More than 30 years after the landmark Mabo native title case succeeded in the High Court, the native title rights of five groups of Torres Strait and mainland traditional owners were recognised.
In a special ceremony held on Thursday Island, the Federal Court today recognised that native title continued to exist over 2500 hectares of land and more than 2 million hectares of waters for the Kaurareg, Kulkalgal, Kemer Kemer Meriam, Ankamuthi and Gudang Yadhaykenu Peoples.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told Parliament this morning, it’s the first time First Nations peoples of the Torres Strait region have joined with First Nations peoples of mainland Australia to work together to progress a joint native title claim with one voice.
“The consent determinations recognised the rights of native title holders who had lived on the islands and on mainland Queensland for thousands of years,” the Premier said.
“The islands and the sea play a fundamental role in the culture of First Nations peoples from the Torres Strait and the Northern Peninsula Area of the Queensland mainland.
“This determination formally recognises this continuing connection to country and Sea country and the rights and interests to that country.
“Recognising native title is vital to Queensland’s path towards reconciliation.
“It helps preserve First Nations people’s culture, values, and traditions, which benefits all Queenslanders.”
Gudang Yadhaykenu traditional owner and volunteer ranger Michael Solomon said future generations would benefit from the job opportunities that looking after country generated.
“It’s important to teach that knowledge and connection to the land and to the sea; so future generations can connect to country and are taught how to live off country,” he said.
“It’s also important to acknowledge the elders that started the struggle that gave evidence to make the recognition of native title possible.”
The determination comes after Eddie Koiki Mabo, also a Meriam man, took his landmark claim for native title recognition to the High Court in 1992.
It was the first time the pre-colonial land interests of First Nations people had been recognised in Australia’s common law.
Kemer Kemer Miriam elder Kapua Gutchen said the determination ensured the world formally recognised the traditional owner groups’ long and continuing connection to country.
“We have always known in our culture that this is our land and waters,” he said.
“But we also needed to work within the law of the land and this was the right way to go about it.
“It now means that the rest of the world will know this is our land and heritage too.”
For Ankamuthi man Asai Pablo it was a time of reflection.
“In my old grandfather’s time… they walked that place to look for sea food,” he said.
“We will continue to work our First Nations people to recognise their rights as traditional owners, with native title now recognised in more than 30 per cent of our state,” he said.
Member for Cook Cynthia Lui said today was a historic milestone for Torres Strait and mainland traditional owners.
“Today’s determinations reflect our First Nations peoples’ connection and care for the land and sea across many generations and with many more to come,” she said.
The Queensland Government has finalised 181 native title claims with a majority being resolved by agreement.