Torres Strait families win legal rights

By Nick Gibbs
Torres Strait Islanders can apply for cultural recognition orders that remove barriers to support. (AAP)

The narrow way in which family relationships are legally certified has been reformed in Queensland to recognise traditional child rearing practices of Torres Strait Islander people.

After decades of campaigning, applications are open for cultural recognition orders enabling new birth certificates to be issued naming "cultural parents".

"This removes the legal barriers, allowing your cultural identity to reflect your legal identity and your lived experience," Meriba Omasker Kaziw Kazipa Commissioner C'Zarke Maza told reporters in Cairns on Tuesday.

"With a true legal identity, you can now access opportunities for education, access government support and thrive."

The Torres Strait is home to a strong, vibrant community and one of the world's oldest continuing living cultures, he said.

"Torres Strait Islander people are expert astronomers, they've observed the skies for a millennia. They're master mariners who have navigated the most treacherous seas. But above all, Torres Strait Islander people are family people," he said.

"We're fiercely unified by our strong family values, and our complex extended family structures.

"I believe today is more than just an application process. I believe today will be part of this country's future conversations and history books."

The legislation meaning "children and adults who have grown up with traditional adoptive parents will finally have their legal identity match their cultural identity" passed the state parliament in September 2020.

"Legally recognising Torres Strait Islander traditional child rearing practice and acknowledging the strength of this enduring culture is a historic milestone in the Queensland government's journey to reframe its relationship with First Nations peoples," Torres Strait Islander and Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui said after the law passed.

"It enables people to apply for a birth certificate that reflects their lived identity, and opens easy access to government services such as financial support and school enrolment."

It took years for the government to understand Torres Strait islander practices, Kupai Omasker Working Group Chair Aunty Ivy Trevallion said.

"I want to thank (current Attorney General Shannon) Fentiman, because she heard our cry,' she said.

After the passing of the laws, Ms Fentiman said Torres Strait Islander people will be able "to have and do things that most of us take for granted, such as having a passport in their own name or being able to obtain a drivers licence".


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