Nagedem ya minaba? Where to from here?

May 7, 2024

Nagedem ya minaba – Kizi Ngalpa Milaka
Where to from Here? Where are we going from here?

Article by Dr. Josephine Bourne

Gur A Baradharaw Kod Sea and Land Council Torres Strait Islander Corporation (GBK) convened a forum to answer these questions. The ground-breaking forum was held on 8 to 10 April 2024 in Gimuy (Cairns). GBK brought together more than 70 representatives from the 21 Registered Native Title Bodies Corporates (PBCs) and two land trusts that are members of GBK. After the disappointment of last year’s referendum, the forum was testimony that GBK and traditional owners across the region continue to press on with the work they are charged to do: protecting the rights and interests of traditional owners across the Torres and Endeavour Straits. 

The first two days of the gathering was convened in partnership with the National Native Title Council (NNTC) and in collaboration with the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA). This part of the forum focussed on building the capacity of PBCs. It was an opportunity for everyone to directly engage with other key stakeholders such as the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA), the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation (ILSC), Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) and the Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC). 

The positive feedback from participants shows it was a well-received and productive forum. For Chair Ned David the forum “provided a space for a large group to raise issues but more importantly to collaborate and develop strategies and solutions. The best thing about the gathering was that people spoke to each other and hopefully put a lot of the myths to rest around the relationship between GBK and PBCs. The work that GBK does as a Native Title Service Provider brings together a collective voice for traditional owners in the broader political environment”. 

Deputy Chair Doug Passi explained, “From Erub to Boigu, we have to swiftly push on, everybody has to come to the same level of understanding to answer the question, where to from here?”. He also reflected on the challenges PBCs face managing relationships and building understanding among our people across the region and on the mainland. He explained that GBK has an important role in assisting PBCs to communicate more broadly, to ensure that our people across the region and on the mainland understand the work being done and why.  

The third day of the forum presented a rare opportunity for leaders, traditional owners, and organisational staff from across the region to reflect on their journey through the native title determination process and shine a light on what their work is now. All agreed the focus has to shift from mere compliance by PBCs with corporate requirements under the CATSI Act to economic development. 

Forum participant and Mualgal PBC staff member Ms Louise Manas said, “The benefit of the forum was to identify and build on the skills that we have and the skills that we all need to learn and understand the work that involves everyone”.  

Chair David said, “Discussions on the third day highlighted the urgency for us to start looking at ways and means of getting things in place to generate revenue and work on the development of an economic strategy that will help reduce the reliance on government funding”. 

The issue of Data Sovereignty was also discussed. Data Sovereignty is about First Nations people being able to set their research agendas, to determine what data is important to achieve their vision and protect the ownership of their knowledges.  

Forum participants supported the idea of establishing an entity or a centre to protect our Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). Chair David explained, “this will empower First Nations people in the Endeavour and Torres Straits to commission their own research and direct research activities and more importantly own the evidence and outcomes of all research conducted in the Straits”. 

Ms Manas talked about the clarity the forum provided to participants, “Everybody was contributing, everybody was confident to share their stories and the journey from where we started with our Native Title claims and also looking at how we will bring the resources and all the conversations together”.  

Deputy Chair Passi encourages people of the Torres and Endeavour Straits to reach out, “If you don’t understand what activities are happening on your home island contact GBK or PBC directly to find out the information to build your understanding”. 

For a personal reflection on the PBC Forum, read Herbert Warusam’s article on the PBC Forum here.