In 1905, Trubanamen Mission was established inland on Topsy Creek, now known as the old mission. Aboriginal peoples of the region were gradually drawn from their ancestral lands into the mission settlement.
Later, in 1916, Mitchell River Mission was founded on the present site of Kowanyama and the Trubanamen site abandoned. Some peoples continued to occupy their traditional lands, moving into Kowanyama as late as the 1940s.
More than 1000 people now live in Kowanyama, making it one of the largest communities on the Cape York Peninsula. Kowanyama's Aboriginal people continue to identify strongly with their ancestral countries and with the languages, stories, songs, dances, and histories associated with those countries. Language groups associated with countries in the Kowanyama region are Yir Yoront, YirrkThangalkl, Koko Bera, UwOykangand, and Olkola.
In 1964, a cyclone destroyed the mission. The Queensland government funded the rebuilding.
In 1967 the Anglican church were no longer able to sustain their activities in the area as a Church Mission. The Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs, a government department, under the Act continued running the affairs of the community.
In July 1987, the State Government of Queensland implemented legislation for a Deed of Grant in Trust over the lands in the Mitchell River delta, an area of 250 km². The deed covered the traditional lands of the people of Kowanyama. Like other Deed of Grant in Trust communities of the time, Kowanyama had a town Council elected by Aboriginal people living in the community. The newly formed Kowanyama Council assumed responsibility for implementing certain conditions of the Deed of Grant in Trust. Seven elected Aboriginal residents hold three year terms in office.
Since the 1990s, many Kowanyama people have been returning to their Ancestral lands through the Homelands Movement. Homelands within the Kowanyama Deed of Grant In Trust include Scrubby Bore, Red Lilly, Ten Mile, Shelfo, Stewart Place, Old Rodeo Ground, Kowanyumal, Duck Hole, Wonya Bore, Kokomenjen Island, Wallaby Island, Joe's Lagoon, Yangr Bore, Engkoram, Fish Hole, Robert Demaine great elder and Thilpi.
Other homelands, including the Oriners Pastoral Lease and the Sefton Pastoral Lease, were independently purchased by the Kowanyama Council and are located outside the Deed of Grant In Trust boundary.
According to the 2011 Census there are 1031 people in Kowanyama, with just over half being female (51.3%) and just under half being male (48.7%).
The people of Kowanyama represent three major linguistically defined groups with traditional links to the Mitchell River and adjacent lands south to the Staaten and Nassau Rivers. The community includes the Kokoberra/Kokoberrin, Yir Yoront (Kokomnjen), Kunjen/Olgol people and their clans, who are culturally and linguistically diverse.
Almost 90% of people only speak English at home but the traditional languages of Koko-Bera and GuuguYimidhirr continue to be spoken within community.
Kowanyama is home to three major linguistically defined groups - Kokoberra/Kokoberrin, Yir Yoront (Kokomnjen) and Kunjen/Olgol
Kowanyama Is Home ToThe Kokoberra/Kokoberrin, Yir Yoront (Kokomnjen) And Kunjen/Olgol