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Cape crusaders: The long journey to recognise 1.5m hectares under native title


The Federal Court has determined 1.5 million hectares of land on Cape York will be recognised under native title, bringing celebrations to four Traditional Owner groups.

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Two special hearings in Cairns this week have ensured the Northern Kaanju, Ayapathu, Lama Lama and Southern Kaantju people will have their native title rights recognised.

The determination means a reconnection to land, culture and history for Traditional Owners across 1.5 million hectares on Cape York, part of the 31 per cent or 536,000 square kilometres of land across Queensland recognised under native title, with a further 305,000 square kilometres currently subject to native title claims.

Northern Kaanju woman Joanne Nelson said the federal court determination brought on mixed feelings for her people.

“I am happy and sad at the same time,” she said.

“It took many years of hard work. But along the way we have lost many Traditional Elders who can’t be here to see this on the day.

“Knowing that elders can go back on country, knowing that it’s theirs and they will be able to live and work on the country, there is a lot of closure in that.”

Lama Lama Traditional Owner Karen Liddy said the recognition of native title would not be happening if it were not for the efforts and determination of her Elders over many years.

‘We walked alongside them when we were growing up,” she said.

“Our old people taught us everything about our land and sea country, either in English or in their languages.

“It was their eyes, their way, their ears, talking on country that led us to become what we are today. I am proud to walk in their shoes.

“I know they will be there (at the celebrations) in spirit, they will all be there with us.”

Ayapathu Traditional Owner Billy Pratt said the determination took “longer than it should”, but would bring relief for the “old ones” who could move onto the next phase of their lives.

“It’s another step, in terms of recognition that we are the first people of the land,” he said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford said the landmark decision came after a long journey to win back land justice.

“We need to acknowledge that this moment is a shining light in what is a deep, dark, history of dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this state,’’ Crawford said.

“Every move we make to right the wrongs of the past, such as acknowledging the native title rights of traditional owners, we take a positive step on the path to truth-telling, healing and true reconciliation.”

A breakdown of the court’s determination includes recognising:



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