Final resting place for indigenous ancestors in Cairns
IN the shadows of their sacred mountain, the Yidinji people have finally laid to rest the remains of ancestors lost to them more than a century ago.
Four sets of skeletons were returned to the Yidinji Aboriginal people, whose land comprises much of Cairns' southern corridor and parts of the Tableland, by the Queensland Museum two years ago after a decades-long battle led by indigenous leader Seith Fourmile.
Yesterday, the descendants gathered to witness the burial of their ancestors at the Forest View cemetery at the base of White Rock Peak, a landmark they refer to as Bunda Mundii Juna and which they hold sacred.
After a traditional smoking ceremony, an emotional Mr Fourmile read a eulogy for his ancestors, some of which are believed to have been killed during a massacre at Skeleton Creek in the late 1800s.
"Finally, they come here and rest here in this place, and their spirits are going to roam again and make this land good," he said.
"They lived here, fished here, laughed here, cried here and died here."
After the ceremony, Mr Fourmile spoke of his mixed feelings; joy at the remains' return, but anger and sadness they were taken far from their spiritual home in the first place by anthropologists and historians.
"I am happy the old people are back here, but sad that their journey has been a long one," he said. "We were treated like research subjects."
Similar ceremonies have been held in the Torres Strait, Bamaga and Injinoo over the past year with many museums, including the Queensland Museum, undertaking to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to return ancestral remains.
It was the first ceremony of its kind for the Yidinji people, but Mr Fourmile's sister, world-renowned indigenous leader Henrietta Fourmile-Marrie, said more were being planned.
"Today is the beginning for us; it will strengthen a lot of Yidinji people and bring together the tribal clans of the area," she said.
"The strength we get from the spirits of our ancestors helps us to be able to continue the plight to keep our culture strong."
The Yidinji people acknowledged Cairns councillor Rob Pyne's assistance to bring the remains back, and the council for donating a plot at the cemetery.Native title protest, Page 31
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Journey's end: (from front) Allan Oliver, Hendrick Fourmile, Seith Fourmile and Jimmy Oliver pay their respects. Picture: MIKE WATT