• Magaram Dancers opening performance for Native Title Symposium on Mer 2017. (AIATSIS (courtesy Lisa Strelein))Source: AIATSIS (courtesy Lisa Strelein)
Torres Strait leaders call for a National Public Holiday to mark the significance of the Mabo decision on it's 25th anniversary and a statement of outcomes is expected. On the 3rd of June 1992, the High Court of Australia recognised First Nation people's prior occupation of Australia and paved the way for native title rights around the country.
Nancia Guivarra

3 Jun 2017 - 12:39 AM  UPDATED 7 Jun 2017 - 3:40 PM

A native title symposium held on Mer on the eve of Mabo Day brought Islander leaders together to determine a way forward for Indigenous sovereignty.

The population of Murray Island increased by 33 per cent this week as 100 invited guests flew in for the 25th anniversary commemorations of the landmark Mabo decision. On the 3rd of June 1992 the High Court of Australia overruled the doctrine of 'terra nullius", the foundation upon which Australia was claimed in the name of King George III at Possession Island in the Torres Strait in 1770, in favour of Eddie Mabo, Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, James Rice and Celuia Salee.

The Meriam people of Mer will celebrate the Mabo decision and the recognition of their ongoing ownership of their traditional lands on the little island where it all began today, hosted by their Prescribed Body Corporate Native title body Mer Gedkem Le.  

A Native Title Symposium was held on yesterday for representative leaders from PBC's around the Strait and associated leaders and experts in native title. Their guests included the Mabo case solicitor Greg McIntyre, Professor Marcia Langton, Gitxsan leader Neil Skerritt and Raelene Webb QC National Native Title Tribunal President and heads of the Torres Strait Regional Authority's CEO Wayne See Kee, Chairperson Pedro Stephen and Elders Alo Tapim and Getano Lui and the Carpentaria Land Council's Murrandoo Yanner.

It was at this symposium that the theme “Our land is sovereign, where to from here?" was discussed and wide-ranging issues were raised surrounding their sovereign rights to be self-determining and to maintain their traditional cultures.  To that end, Torres Strait leaders voted to call for a National Public Holiday to recognise the importance of the Mabo decision for all Australians. It's expected the Torres Strait leaders will make a formal statement regarding a way forward in recognition of their sovereign rights they will present to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Senator Nigel Scullion.

Today's formal proceedings were opened by Meriam Elder Alo Tapim with a cultural dance performance by the Magaram clan of the Meriam people. The Magaram clan are the tribe responsible for the cultural proceedings on Mer for the 25th anniversary of Mabo. 

In a speech early today Torres Strait Regional Association representative for Mer Island, Aven Noah acknowledged the elders of the Mabo decision who have passed away, Eddie Koiki Mabo, James Rice, Sam Passi and Celuia Salee with a minute’s silence.

Chair of Mer Gedkem Le Doug Passi acknowledged the work ahead for all leaders and called upon his people to continue to recognise Malo's law that was used as evidence of traditional Meriam laws of land tenure  in the Mabo case, "tag mauki mauki, teter mauki mauki." This law roughly translates to "do not touch another's property."

The Mabo 25th anniversary commemorations began Monday this week with cultural activities including spear marking, weaving, dance, singing and performances including primary school children from the Tagai State College on Mer performing at the Native Title Symposium.

Minister Nigel Scullion will join the formal proceedings today which will feature a screening of Land Bilong Islanders produced by Trevor Graham and Aven Noah, a documentary about the High Court of Australia’s Mabo decision.   

Senator Scullion will speak at the formal ceremony for a wreath laying and the unveiling of a renovated tombstone for Eddie 'Koiki' Mabo.  It will be followed by wreath laying at the graves for the other plaintiffs and the Torres Strait launch of 50 cent coin with Koiki’s image by the Senator.

The marking of the Mabo 25th anniversary on the 3rd June will wrap with a major ceremony featuring the eight clans of Murray Island.  They will come together to form a procession back to the Cultural Ground that promises to be a spectacle.

NITV News and The Point will feature a wrap of the Saturday events on Monday the 5th of June.