Forests returned to Kuku Yalanji . . .
In a deal negotiated over four years with the Queensland state government, four prominent national parks in northern Queensland have been returned to the ownership of the Kuku Yalanji, an Indigenous people that have inhabited the region for 50,000 years. The parks cover an area of around 1,600 square kilometres and form part of the ‘Wet Tropics of Queensland’ UNESCO World Heritage Site. Included in the sites returned to their traditional owners is Daintree National Park, the world’s oldest tropical rainforest, estimated to be 130 million years old. The Kuku Yalanji will manage the parks in co-operation with the Queensland government, with sole responsibility for management returning to the tribe in the future. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Recognizing the importance of Indigenous culture . . .
Queensland’s Minister for the Environment Meaghan Scanlon acknowledged the return of ownership is an important step toward reconciliation between the Australian government and Indigenous Australians, a relationship she described as "an uncomfortable and ugly shared past." The fact that governments did not consult with local Indigenous Australian groups in preparation for the region’s application for UNESCO World Heritage status in the 1980s is emblematic of governments ignoring Indigenous culture and claims to the land. The UNESCO application only specified the region’s natural value, not its cultural value, and was in large part developed as a means for protecting the rainforest from logging. In the years since, tourism and ecotourism have replaced forestry as economic drivers in the region. Many feel the land transfer will generate an economic stimulus for the Kuku Yalanji and other Indigenous Australians while deepening Indigenous stewardship.
Climate change threatening Australia’s World Heritage Sites . . .
The land transfer comes when climate change is threatening the viability of one of Australia’s most iconic natural features, the Great Barrier Reef, where rising sea temperatures are causing extended coral bleaching events, negatively affecting reef habitats and biodiversity. The Great Barrier Reef is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Earlier this year, a UNESCO scientific committee recommended that the organization classify the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ and urged the Australian government to undertake “accelerated action at all possible levels” against climate change. While Canberra vigorously lobbied against the change and UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee did not implement the recommendation, Australia must submit an updated progress report that responds to UNESCO’s concerns early next year. With Australia’s greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts frequently criticized, perhaps Indigenous stewardship practices offer alternatives to mitigate some of climate change’s worst effects.
- Australian Broadcasting Corporation: What does the Daintree handback mean for tourism and traditional owners?
- Brisbane Times: Daintree among four Qld national parks handed back to traditional owners
- National Public Radio: A historic rainforest and other lands have been returned to Indigenous Australians