The world-famous Daintree National Park has been handed back to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, part of 160,000 hectares of land in Cape York that is again in the hands of traditional owners following an agreement with the Queensland government.
The planet’s oldest rainforest joins Uluru and Kakadu as UNESCO world heritage sites under management of First Nations people.
Environment Minister Meaghan Scanlon, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford and representatives from the Eastern Kuku Yalanji People signed an at a special ceremony in Bloomfield, north of Wujal Wujal.
The Daintree, Ngalba-bulal, Kalkajaka and the Hope Islands National Parks – Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land, stretching from north of Port Douglas to south of Cooktown – will now be jointly-managed by the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
The Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama hope to eventually solely and wholly manage the land.
A new nature refuge will also be created.
“Our goal is to establish a foundation to provide confident and competent people with pathways and opportunities for mentoring, training, apprenticeships, work experience and employment for our Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama to fill positions from a wide range of skilled trades, land and sea management, hospitality, tourism, and research so that we are in control of our own destinies,” said Eastern Kuku Yalanji traditional owners negotiating committee (TONC) member, Chrissy Grant.
“On 29 September 2021, this significant historic event becomes legal and a reality for the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Bama to realise our vision for a more promising future for all our people.
“I want to thank the TONC members, Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, and particularly our legal advisers who fought for the best that we could get through some trying times as well as having to deal with keeping everyone safe from the COVID pandemic.”
Minister Scanlon said Australia has an uncomfortable and ugly shared past in this country, and the handback was a key step on the path towards reconciliation.
“The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people’s culture is one of the world’s oldest living cultures and this agreement recognises their right to own and manage their Country, to protect their culture and to share it with visitors as they become leaders in the tourism industry,” she said.
“These national parks will protect important Aboriginal cultural sites, diverse ecosystems including rainforests, woodlands, wetlands and mangroves, and form part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area which is recognised as the second most irreplaceable world heritage site on Earth.”
The handback marks the government returning more than 3.8 million hectares of land back to traditional owners on Cape York, with 2.3 million hectares to be jointly managed, Minister Scanlon said.
There are now 32 Aboriginal-owned and jointly-managed national parks on the Cape York Peninsula.
Minister Scanlon said some of the benefits for the traditional owners will be funds provided annually and in perpetuity for the joint management of the national parks.
Funds will be provided to develop a tourism hub at Dubudji, first options for contracting on national parks, first rights to consider new tourism proposals, and endeavour to increase the skills and numbers of Jabalbina Indigenous rangers, she said.