Cape York Institute’s origins can be traced back to the landmark battles for land rights in the latter part of the 20th Century.

Commencing with the historic Mabo Decision, the land rights struggle across Australia was heavily influenced by the work of the old people of Cape York and an emerging band of young leaders, such as Noel Pearson, who were empowered to take the battle for land justice to Parliaments and the Courts.

The historic Native Title Act of 1993, spearheaded by Noel Pearson and other leaders, set the ground for the landmark Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland case in the High Court.

The Wik decision established profound legal precedents that have underpinned the ongoing fight for land rights justice for Indigenous communities across Australia.

A significant aspect of the land rights campaigns on Cape York were a series of Land and Health Summits that brought together people from across Cape York.

The first of these, held at Lockhart River, resulted in the establishment of the Cape York Land Council, which took up the ongoing struggle for land justice. As the summits progress throughout the next decade, the Cape York people increasingly discussed the broader social issues facing their communities and, progressively, established sister organisations to drive social changes.

These including Apunipima Cape York Health Council to spearhead health delivery reforms and Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation, charged with exploring and implementing economic development arising from the land rights gained.

As the summits progressed, it became clear that a central impediment to building strong and vibrant communities was the lack of empowerment for Indigenous people.

The’ heavy hand’ of governments was stifling the ability of the people and communities to devise solutions to overcome what they saw as the central problem – passive welfare.

At the Wujul Wujul Land and Health Summit in 1999, the people of Cape York presented the then Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie with a Kaban – a formal communique. In it, they stated:

“Increasingly we have come to understand that welfarism, however well intentioned, has stripped us of the honour and dignity and taken our future from us.”