Recognition of traditional lands is just the first step in a long and challenging journey toward self determination for Bernard Charlie and his people.
His tribe, the Gudang Yadhaykenu, along with the Atampaya and Seven Rivers Angkamuthi Peoples, were on Thursday granted native title over a large chunk of Queensland's Cape York.
"Today there were mixed emotions," the traditional owner, who 14 years ago joined others in the struggle for recognition, told AAP.
"I was happy yet sad for all the people who went through the struggle over the years.
"For me it's the first leg of the journey."
The 39-year-old father says the next step is to use the land to develop industry, including tourism, in the region and create jobs for future generations.
Mr Charlie says legal recognition over the land, which spans 680,000 hectares on the tip of the peninsula, means culturally significant sites are protected.
It also means discussions with non-indigenous parties over land ownership can be resolved.
"When land tenure is resolved we can go about home ownership, buying land or leasing land," he said.
"This will develop and stimulate the local economy.
"We don't want to rely on hand outs; this is an opportunity for a hand up, to get economic independence. It will break the shackles of dependency."
But Mr Charlie says there are a lot of challenges that must be met before this becomes a reality.
"There will be a lot of challenges, endless hours, endless discussions ... it's been a rocky journey already," he said.
"But today my thoughts are with those who fought for this before us - they started this journey and we finished it off.
"For me, they are here in spirit."
Federal Court Justice Andrew Greenwood presided over a ceremony at Injinoo, on the tip of Cape York, to officially hand native title rights to the three tribes on Thursday.
The Cape York Land Council says the determination, lodged in July 2011, is one of the largest in the region.