A 180-million-year-old tropical rainforest in Queensland, Australia has officially been handed back to its traditional Indigenous owners by the state government. The deal means that after four years of negotiations, the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people now control the Daintree Rainforest, which has been their home since long before Australia was colonized.
Considered the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet, the Daintree was given UNESCO world heritage status in 1988 as part of an initiative to protect it from logging, mining, and development. However, while the site’s listing served to recognize its immense environmental significance, it did not include any acknowledgment of the long-standing cultural traditions of its long-term inhabitants.
Speaking to The Guardian, the Indigenous owner and chair of the Wet Tropics Management Authority board Chrissy Grant said that “[p]eople were probably not upset about it back at that time, but certainly after that time [Indigenous] people realised they were completely ignored.” According to Grant, world heritage status was awarded “in a rush to try to stop forest logging, but in that process they completely ignored Aboriginal people.”
In total, the Queensland government has now handed over ownership of 395,467 acres of land, which includes the Daintree, Ngalba Bulal, Kalkajaka and Hope Islands national parks. These areas now join other iconic landmarks such as Uluru and Kakadu as UNESCO world heritage sites controlled by First Nations people.
Reacting to the handover, Grant stated that “it’s a big thing for Eastern Kuku Yalanji people, for us bama, which means people.”
“Bama across the wet tropics have consistently lived within the rainforest. That in itself is something that is pretty unique to the world heritage listing," she continued. "Wherever you go there are communities within the tropical rainforest.”
Also home to 186 rare, threatened, and endangered species of plants and animals, the Daintree is seen by conservationists as a region of global ecological significance. Initially, the forest’s traditional owners will manage the land in collaboration with the Queensland government, though Grant says that the long-term goal is for the Indigenous custodians to take full control of the area.
“Our goal is to establish a foundation to provide ... 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.”
[H/T: The Guardian]