Indigenous involvement in environmental and heritage management
Rowena Brown and Peter Creaser (eds) Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Services, South Australia and the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Heritage;
Sean Kerins, Northern Land Council;
Jane L Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates;
Mona Nugula Liddy, Daly River Community Reference Group
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Although Australian Indigenous people have cared for their country as an ongoing commitment, in recent times the percentage of land owned and managed by Indigenous peoples has been slowly rising.
Another relevant change has been a growing recognition and appreciation of Indigenous knowledge of the land and the sea and its biodiversity, and management techniques to achieve sustainable development of the land and sea for all Australians.
In Australia State of the Environment 2001, the Australian State of the Environment Committee said:
Outcomes of the return of Indigenous land are a cause for hope, but not for complacency. Certainly more land can now be conserved in the traditional way, but more land means more responsibility, and the support for this responsibility is not yet present in any integrated way. Much of the land being returned to Indigenous peoples is degraded… One of the challenges for the management of the Australian environment is to ensure for Indigenous peoples a strong capability for management of land which they control. This requires effective support mechanisms provided in a culturally suitable way. (ASEC 2001).
For Australia State of the Environment 2006, the committee decided to seek information on Indigenous involvement in environment and heritage management in a different way. Case studies were sought from both Indigenous people and people supporting Indigenous groups or committees.
The four case studies are:
- the Northern Territory’s Daly River catchment planning exercise.
- Progressing natural resources management with Aboriginal communities in South Australia—the Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resource Management Group and Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resource Management Board.
- the Caring for Country Initiative, Northern Land Council
- Lake Victoria: a study on Indigenous involvement in environment and heritage management.
This selection is not intended to be representative of the ways Indigenous people are involved in environmental and heritage management. The four case studies show a diversity of approaches to land and sea management. Some of the initiatives have been in existence for 10 years or so, some for less time. All of the initiatives were ongoing as at December 2005.
The South Australian case study illustrates innovation in the natural resource management (NRM) field where the Aboriginal Lands Integrated NRM Group is the first NRM region to be managed by a board entirely composed of Aboriginal people. In this area of South Australia, Indigenous people’s knowledge of the land and its biodiversity is being captured in technical ways, for example by the use of notepad computers to record sightings of local birds and animals. This knowledge is being directly connected to scientific knowledge and to policy to improve the condition of the land resource and the ability of the Indigenous people to gain economic benefit from the areas.
The case studies illustrate the complexities that are part of the ongoing engagement of Indigenous people with management of their country. The deep commitment of the Waignayu people in the Daly River region to their river and the surrounding catchment is told directly by one of the participants in the Community Reference Group. She tells of the struggle to understand the technical language and to have Indigenous knowledge incorporated into the Daly River Catchment Land Use Plan. It illustrates the very different ways people have of seeing the world. As a footnote, the Community Reference Group’s report was made public in November 2005 and a new catchment management advisory group has been established.
There have been other successes in environmental and heritage management where Indigenous people have been instrumental, along with the relevant agencies that have given support and funding for this consultation and planning to occur. The Lake Victoria case study, where the Lake Victoria Advisory Committee, comprising traditional owners and others, and with financial and resource support from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission, has advanced the protection of Indigenous burial sites on the lake shores of an operational water storage area on the Murray River. The process has not always been straightforward, and has required goodwill and understanding from all participants to achieve a result that benefits all groups.
The scale of environment and heritage issues faced by Indigenous owners is illustrated in the Northern Land Council case study, where a network of some 34 community-based Aboriginal natural and cultural resource management programs have been established and continue to increase in number with the support of the council.