Ancient Australian Rainforest Returned To Aboriginal Owners

Nearly 400,000 acres of rainforest in northeast Australia has been turned back over to the aboriginal tribes who made their homes on the continent thousands of years before European colonists first landed.

According to the New York Times, the Daintree Rainforest in Australia, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is estimated at 180 million years old, making this one of the world’s oldest rainforests as well as a popular travel destination.

The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia.
The Daintree Rainforest in Queensland, Australia.

Under an agreement signed with the Queensland state government, the land once more belongs to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people, who have 50,000 years of cultural history in the region.

“The Eastern Kuku Yalanji people’s culture is one of the world’s oldest living cultures and this agreement recognizes 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,” said Meaghan Scanlon, the Queensland environment minister.

Aboriginal tribes have made their homes in this rainforest for tens of thousands of years.
Aboriginal tribes have made their homes in this rainforest for tens of thousands of years.

According to the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation, members the historic deal took four years to negotiate.

“We want to congratulate and acknowledge the hard work the Eastern Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owner Negotiation Committee (TONC) contributed to these negotiations. Your contribution has made a significant change to how these deals will move forward with other groups in the future,” reads a Facebook post from the company. “We want to congratulate and acknowledge the hard work of all of the Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation staff that have contributed to the National Parks CYPAL project over the past 4 years, including the staff that have since moved onto different paths.”

The Daintree Rainforest was handed over to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji by the Queensland government.
The Daintree Rainforest was returned to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji by the Queensland government.

The agreement places the Daintree, the Ngalba-bulal, Kalkajaka and the Hope Islands National Parks under the cooperative management of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people and Queensland government. Eventually, management of the parks will be the responsibility of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people alone.

“This is where we belong on country, on bubu — on land,” Yalanji traditional owner and Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation director Mary-Anne Port told Australia’s ABC news. “All our ancestors called us back to home.”

The Eastern Kuku Yalanji have plans to set up opportunities for tribal youth in these national parks.
The Eastern Kuku Yalanji have plans to set up opportunities for tribal youth in these national parks.

Scanlon called this deal “a key step on the path towards reconciliation,” acknowledging an “uncomfortable and ugly shared past” between the federal and regional governments built by colonial Europeans and the Aboriginal people

“From 2000 to 2019, the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults increased 72%, according to a government report published last year,” NPR reports. “The daily average detention rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth remains about 22 times the rate for non-Indigenous youth in Australia.”

Aboriginal Australians make up a disproportionate number of incarcerated people in Australia, in comparison to their population. As well, deaths are more likely to occur when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are in police custody than other races, The Guardian reports.

The Daintree Rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Daintree Rainforest is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Indigenous children are yet denied rights in Australia, the New York Times reports, as they face higher rates of detention than their peers, and deal with discrimination on a near-daily basis.

Aboriginal Australians have the longest continuous living culture in the world. Work on the parks in the Daintree Rainforest region is hoped to give new opportunities for aboriginal youth.

“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, ” Eastern Kuku Yalanji Traditional Owners Negotiating Committee Member Chrissy Grant said in a statement.

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