AFTER 17 long years of legal proceedings, the Bandjalang People have finally come home.
The Bandjalang People were yesterday recognised by the Federal Court of Australia as the traditional owners of land surrounding Evans Head.
Under the determination they were given non-exclusive rights to hunt, fish, camp, take waters and perform traditional ceremonies on land that extends between Casino, Evans Head and Whiporie and includes significant portions of national park and state forest.
Justice Jayne Jagot handed down her determination in a courtroom that had been set up at the Evans Head RSL Club where almost 300 indigenous and non-indigenous people gathered to hear the outcome.
When she stated the Bandjalang People had satisfied the provisions of native title legislation, showing they had a long-standing connection to the land and were recognised as the traditional owners, the gallery stood and applauded.
Family representatives of the Bandjalang People hugged each other in tears and addressed the audience with sentiments such as "Now I can say I am from Evans Head".
Justice Jagot noted in her
determination that the authors of the Native Title Act had not contemplated the length of time matters would take to completion.
"My hope is that as a result of today further outcomes will be more readily achievable," Justice Jagot said.
At the end of the proceedings Bandjalang representatives were handed a copy of the determination and congratulated by the legal team.
One Bandjalang family representative and now native title holder, Afzal Khan, was ecstatic about the outcome after spending years meeting with government and legal representatives.
"Today is all about reconciliation and closing the gap so that indigenous peoples are equal within our community," Mr Khan said.
"Today is a coming together of our culture and heritage and ensuring it is preserved in the future."
Head of National Parks and Wildlife Services, Ann King, also read an apology from Minister for Environment and Heritage Robyn Parker.
CEO of Native Title Services Corp Natalie Rotumah said yesterday was a "proud day" for the Bandjalang People.
"It's a proud day for Bandjalang Peoples, it's a proud day for Aboriginal peoples and it's a proud day for the North Coast," Ms Rotumah said.
"This determination shows what can be achieved when parties approach negotiations with goodwill and open minds."
Principal solicitor for the Bandjalang People, Mishka Holt, has been working on the matter for five years.
She said it was a "thrill" to see the indigenous people given rights to their traditional lands.
"It has been a privilege to with the Bandjalang People and they've spent a long time getting to the day where their rights are finally recognised," Ms Holt said.
The native title claims were resolved by the Bandjalang People and the State of NSW, with consultation with parties including commercial fishers, beekeepers and local councils who made submissions to the Federal Court asking for native title to be recognised.
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