Thousands of generations of shared history across Cape York and the Torres Strait has been formally recognised by the Federal Court of Australia.
Celebrations were held on Thursday Island as Justice Debbie Mortimer announced the historic Native Title consent determination, which covers about 65,000 square kilometres of land and sea.
Recognising the Native Title rights of the Kemer Kemer Meriam and Kulkalgal Nations and Kaurareg, Ankamuthi and Gudang Yadhaykenu people, the determination will resolve seven partially overlapping claims over land and sea and is the largest sea claim in Australia’s history.
It is also the first time that First Nations peoples of the Torres Strait region have joined with First Nations peoples of mainland Australia to work together to seek to achieve recognition of their Native Title rights.
Ankamuthi Traditional Owner, Charles Woosup said the determinations would be celebrated across the Far North.
“It’s good to see that two Indigenous cultures are coming together and fighting for the same thing,” he said.
“Our ancestors have been hunting and gathering on these waters together for a long, long time.”
The area covered by the seven claims stretches from Captain Billy Landing on the north-east coast of Cape York, east to the Great Barrier Reef, north to the sea surrounding Warral (Hawkesbury) Island and Ului (West) Island, and west to Skardon River, just north of Mapoon.
Although not all of the claimed areas were determined, the determination area will cover 50 islands, islets, sand cays and rocks.
Gudang Yadhaykenu Elder Shorty Lifu said it was a major win for Traditional Owners.
Born in 1943 at Cowal Creek, now known as Injinoo, Shorty said it had been a long time coming.
“We’ve been waiting for a long time… generations have been waiting for this,” he said.
“My dad said, ‘don’t give this place away, it’s our place.”
Cape York Land Council chair Richie Ah Mat said the historic occasion was a testament to the strength that came from speaking with a united voice.
“This is a momentous occasion on so many levels,” he said from Thursday Island.
“The decision to unite to give one voice to this land and sea claim has ensured that First Nations people of the Torres Strait and Cape York have finally been heard.
“This consent determination recognises so many things. Our right to use marine resources, our right to speak up to protect our land and sea Country and our unbroken connection with this precious place.
“I want to acknowledge the dedication of all the Traditional Owners and the native title representative bodies and the long journey it has taken to get here.”
Justice Mortimer thanked the applicants for their “treasure trove” of cultural evidence to make the claim possible.
“Thank you for telling your stories… and documenting them. Today shows the strength of your Elders and communities.”
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This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 6 December 2022.