A LONG battle for Elders in Cape York – many of whom died before seeing the results – is over for four different Traditional Owner groups after Native Title determinations were delivered in Cairns last week.
Around 850,000 hectares of Cape York land has been added to the Native Title register after successful campaigns by the Central West Wik, Taepithiggi, Umpila and Weipa Peninsula people.
Their fight was part of the Cape York United #1 Claim, which was lodged in 2014 with the backing of multiple Traditional Owner groups and communities.
Cape York Land Council chair Richie Ah Mat said it was a time for both celebration and reflection.
“Native Title is a great legacy to leave the children and grandchildren, but we must also remember those who worked so hard for this day and didn’t get to see the results,” he said.
“Unfortunately Native Title is a long process and many Elders are no longer with us after starting the process.”
Speaking to the ABC, Chief Justice Debra Mortimer acknowledged the time it took for the claims to be processed.
“This has been a really long journey and I’m sorry that this system of Native Title … takes so long,” she said.
“It’s been too long for some Elders, who have not lived to see this determination today, and that makes today both a happy day and a sad day.”
Central West Wik Traditional Owner Douglas Ahlers said it was about righting wrongs of the past.
“To me, recognition of Native Title means a step in the right direction of full and equal rights between the black man and the white man,” he said.
“Every day, as a 5 or 6-year-old boy, I used to watch my parents go to the police station to get a piece of paper just to be able to go to the store to buy food or clothes.
“My people were under the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act.
“Some of them lived to see the abolishment of the Act and the freedom of their rights. The recognition of Native Title is a further confirmation of that freedom.”
Umpila representative Joseph ‘J-Boy’ Hobson added: “It will give me great pleasure to take my family back to Umpila Country, to show them why I did the Native Title process,” he said.
“I want to bring my kids to my Country and have them share it with their children.”