Chairperson's Message

Cape York Land Council Chairperson Richie Ah Mat
Chairperson, Richie Ah Mat

In this our 25th year, Cape York Land Council proudly remembered the founders of this organisation as we hosted the 2015 National Native Title Conference, for the first time in our history.  This year’s conference was aptly titled – Leadership, Legacy and Change.  It was our insistence of this title noting that for us it was a recognition of the leadership past and present, the legacy that has been left for us and challenges us to be agents of change as we move forward in the Land Council’s journey.

It was no surprise that this year’s conference saw the highest number of indigenous participants and saw the use of social media to promote not only the conference but the messages that came from the week’s discussions.  During this historical week in Port Douglas, we saw more than seventy papers and presentations that spoke to Indigenous leadership, platforms and economic participation in the real economy and foundations for cultural resurgence.

I believe this is our challenge as a Land Council as we move forward.  In this reporting period, Cape York Land Council on behalf of Cape York Traditional Owners registered the Cape York United One Claim in December 2014, after intensive consultation that saw us meet with traditional owners across 23 communities in Queensland.  This Application saw Cape York bama seek full recognition of their native title rights and interests over more than 14.6 million hectares of land and waterways.

During these consultations we heard a common theme – ownership, opportunity, independence, economic development.  None of this can be achieved without recognition and reform across land tenure, home ownership, and economic development.  The uniting of so many clans and peoples in this single united claim will prove to be a powerful voice when protecting Traditional Owners rights in negotiations with government and other parties for what happens on our lands.

Cape York Land Council stands proudly with a network of Regional Organisations committed to this achievement.  It is the visions of our elders 25 years ago and was the common message in the realisation of all of the Regional Organisations.  Proudly we stand together to defend Aboriginal people of Cape York’s right to this.

Native Title has brought both good and bad to the doors of Aboriginal communities.  It is timely to revisit some of the history to give further substance to this statement.

Twenty-five years ago, the Cape York Land Council was formed, twenty-three years ago, the Mabo Decision was handed down by the High Court and twenty-two years have gone by since the Native Title legislation passed Federal Parliament.

It was the Cape York Land Council, under the expert and inspired guidance of the CEO at that time, Noel Pearson, that took the Wik Case to the High Court and won.  If Mabo meant that Native Title was finally included in the law of the land, the Wik Case made sure that many more indigenous groups across Australia had the possibility of it being recognised.  Since those land mark days of the 1990s, the Cape York Land Council has had some significant wins and across Cape York, Bama have been reclaiming their ancestral lands.

Our Indigenous people now own about one-third of Cape York as Aboriginal Freehold and Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land.   Native Title has been determined over about 47,000 square kilometres, and around 38,000 square kilometres is under claim.

Native Title confirms our identities, connections to country and extended clans and protects our rights to hunt and fish.  It enables us to create opportunities with mining companies and other investors.  However, we face significant challenges in using these rights as a platform for economic development and home ownership.

The main barrier to so many opportunities, is that native title is not land ownership in a modern sense.  Native Title is not registered on State’s Land Title Registers, so it restricts mainstream economic activity.  Property Rights for Traditional Owners must be a priority.

The settlement of these rights will be part of a wider settlement that will empower our communities, provide us with control over our lands, and ensure we can use our land – like mainstream land owners across Australia.  We are now pursuing a comprehensive development model.  It is based on empowerment, rights and recognition with the goal of development.  We have rejected the model of an economy based on welfare passivity, and dependence on government transfers.  Already in Cape York we see real and lasting results as part of our Welfare Reform programs.  How many of the services designed and delivered by government to our communities have the same achievement of creating lasting change.

I urge our community members, colleagues and those working with us to create lasting change, to remember our vision as it was twenty-five years ago and remain focused on our goal today – to strengthen our native title rights and pursue economic opportunity, which will in turn foster healthy communities and build futures for our children that our elders would be proud of.

In closing, I note that we are at the end of the four year term of the current Board of Directors of Cape York Land Council.  It has been a pleasure to hold the role of Chairperson of this great organisation during this term.  I thank the board and the staff who have given their commitment to our cause.

Richie Ah Mat, Chairperson

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We’ve been kicking the dust throughout Cape York for more than 20 years. Here’s a snapshot of some of our successes around the Cape York Region and Traditional Owner PBC's throughout Cape York.

Our Resources

On a regular basis we produce informative publications which act to communicate to our constituents and the public the aims, objective and activities with regards to land dealing as well as other Indigenous related issues.

Cape York Links

Cape York Land Council is a part of an integral network of Indigenous service organisations that have been working to improve the lives and social conditions of the people of Cape York through positive empowerment.