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
Progressing natural resources management with Aboriginal communities in South Australia—the Aboriginal Lands Integrated NRM Group and Alinytjara Wiluara Natural Resource Management Board
The Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resource Management Group (ALINRMG) was established as part of the Australian and state governments’ Natural Heritage Trust II initiative to identify regional NRM issues, and actions to address those issues. In South Australia, membership of the ALINRMG originally evolved from membership of the SAMLISA (Strategy for Aboriginal Managed Lands in South Australia) Steering Committee. The SAMLISA Steering Committee, forged through long-term partnerships and commitment to Aboriginal involvement in NRM, included representatives from the South Australian Aboriginal Lands Trust, Maralinga Tjarutja, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara, the Indigenous Land Corporation and supporting state agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries and Resources, South Australia; Department for Environment and Heritage; Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation; and the Department for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation.
The ALINRMG expanded further in the past few years, eventually consisting of 15 members who have made a significant contribution to the planning and management of South Australia’s natural resources. Key achievements have included:
- development and implementation of an accredited NRM plan and investment strategy
- provision of high-level advice to enhance Aboriginal participation and decision-making in NRM
- provision of specialist advice and direction to support the transition and implementation of the South Australian Natural Resources Management Act 2004
- securing financial support to ensure Aboriginal communities across South Australia receive ongoing support and investment for their natural resource management priorities.
The success and achievements of the ALINRMG can be attributed to a variety of factors, some of which include:
- strong governance and leadership to guide overall direction and manage change
- long-term commitment to improve the condition of our natural resources
- partnerships and mutual agreement with government and service providers
- meaningful participation and involvement in all levels of planning, decision making, investment, delivery, and monitoring and evaluation
- ongoing community participation and support
- trust and interpersonal relationships, especially those developed and maintained over an extended period of time
- proactive administration to support the direction and achievement of NRM outcomes
- capacity building and access to technical and facilitation networks.
In accordance with requirements of the South Australian Natural Resources Management Act 2004, the recently appointed Alinytjara Wilurara Regional NRM Board now have the task of building on the success achieved by the ALINRMG. Appointed in July 2005, the Alinytjara Wilurara (Pitjantjatjara for north-west) NRM Board has responsibility for delivery of Natural Heritage Trust and related NRM programs, as well as statutory responsibility for the sound management of the region’s natural resources.
The Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Board consists of nine members appointed for their skills and expertise in the management of the region’s natural resources and Aboriginal culture. The Board has a strong partnership approach, working in close collaboration with state and Commonwealth agencies such as the Departments of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation, Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, and Environment and Heritage.
The Alinytjara Wilurara is the first and thus far only NRM region in Australia that is entirely managed by a board of Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal approach to caring for country has always been integrated and holistic. For Aboriginal people, the environmental, economic, social and cultural aspects of natural resource management are not separate, but inextricably and seamlessly linked. This report provides some examples of how the ALINRMG and the Alinytjara Wilurara Board have continued to make progress on strengthening linkages of NRM to social, cultural and economic outcomes.
The accredited Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resources Management (INRM) Plan and Investment Strategy (2004–2007) was developed through extensive consultation with Aboriginal communities, the three major Aboriginal Landholding Authorities (Maralinga Tjarutja, Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara and Aboriginal Lands Trust), state and Commonwealth government agencies, non-government agencies and other regional Indigenous NRM bodies. An additional investment strategy was developed during 2005 to cover the next three years to 2008. This current investment strategy programs includes (2005–2008):
- resource protection and management of threatening processes
- enterprise development and sustainable agriculture.
Programs identified within the INRM Plan include:
- traditional land management and knowledge transfer
- communication and education
- monitoring and evaluation
- program management and administration
- transitional arrangements (supporting transfer of investments from Alinytjara Wilurara to other regions).
While scientific data forms a basis for the INRM Plan, equally important is traditional Indigenous environmental knowledge of regional communities. Traditional cultural and environmental knowledge has been recognised by the ALINRMG and the Alinytjara Wilurara Board as the backbone of their overall philosophy and approach.
The Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Board recognises that the physical connection between Aboriginal people and their traditional country has been severely affected by their treatment since European settlement. The ongoing engagement of Aboriginal people with their land through traditional land management practices is an important step in natural resource management on Aboriginal lands and supports the maintenance of Aboriginal culture.
Some of the projects which focus on the maintenance of culture include:
- supporting traditional practices, such as rockhole cleaning, that help sustain natural resources
- supporting activities for teaching younger Aboriginal people by elders regarding traditional land management practices.
On the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in north-western South Australia, women play a pivotal role in the management of natural and cultural heritage. Anangu women, called Minyma in their own language, bring unique knowledge and perspectives to land management and planning. Minyma contribute to land management plans and are key decision makers about the format and location of land management work. Traditional cultural practices of Aboriginal people support the maintenance of ecological systems and are also a vehicle for passing on culture to younger generations. On the APY Lands Minyma participate in recording, visiting and cleaning rockholes and sites, monitoring threatened species, controlling feral animals, patchburning and survey work. Minyma also play a key role in training and sharing knowledge with school students and children.
Officers from APY Land Management met in early 2005 with the traditional owners of Apara to discuss setting up a management plan for the central APY Lands. Traditional owners have been impressed with the Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) progress at Walalkara and Wataru and would like to develop an IPA-style management plan for the area encompassed by the Tjala (honey ant) Tjukurpa Dreaming.
Senior traditional owners were also able to pass on their traditional knowledge of the area to the children and future custodians. The Apara springs are important culturally but have been damaged by feral cattle, horses and camels (cattle were recently removed from near the springs by the Amata Cattle Company). The group plans to remove horses and camels. They would like to control foxes and cats and hope to reintroduce the many small mammals that were endemic but have now disappeared from the area (in the lifetime of the oldest members of the groups).
In 2004–05, a number of projects supported the integration of cultural and land management practices such as:
- threatened species management
- feral carnivore and herbivore management
- cultural heritage and site protection
- monitoring and evaluation
- tourism and sustainable economic development.
Specific examples are provided in the case studies below.
Anangu of the APY Lands have been working with Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Management to use traditional ecological management and scientific tools and knowledge to look after country. The APY Lands contain many threatened species and species with limited distribution. Traditional owners use the Cybertracker, where a global positioning system unit is linked up to a touchscreen notepad computer with icons of animals, to record their observations. The Cybertracker is useful for recording tracks and sightings of a range of threatened species, examining and recording their home range for future plans and protection strategies. Children are taught by older people in the community how to track animals and how to record these tracks in the Cybertracker system.
Acknowledgment: Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Management Team
During the meeting of the Aboriginal Lands Community Landcare Officer Network in the APY Lands in May 2005, Joe Benshemesh and traditional owners from the APY Lands talked about their work looking at the Itjaritjari or Southern Marsupial Mole (Notorcytes typhlops). This nationally endangered mole is a very secretive animal and Joe said that in all the time he had been researching the habits of the mole he had only actually seen one twice. Joe talked about the habits of this animal and about the research he is doing with the community to help everyone understand more about them and how to look after these curious animals into the future. Joe thought that there may still be quite a few around but said it is hard to know because they live under the ground and rarely come out. Traditional owners, however, were able to share their experiences and observations of this secretive animal, with a wealth of local knowledge on their movements and behaviour. The Itjaritjari Project is a great example of how traditional knowledge of Anangu (people), combined with contemporary scientific methods, is working to help generate an improved understanding and an upcoming recovery plan for the secretive Itjaritjari.
Acknowledgment: Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Management Team
The following case study is an example of improving the social, economic and environmental viability of the land with Aboriginal communities.
At the Dinahline bushtucker plot and orchard north of Ceduna, the integration of training through on-ground works and business enterprise development is generating culturally relevant employment for Indigenous people. With the assistance of the Reedy Creek Nursery, Dinahline community members established a trial plot that was used to determine which plant varieties were most suited to local climatic conditions. A semi-commercial plot was subsequently established. When planting was completed in January 2005 there were more than 15 000 plants in the ground, including desert raisins, quandongs, Tanami apples, muntries, bush bananas, rock figs, conkerberries, native oranges, desert yams and saltbush. Profits generated through the Dinahline project feed back into the community. The Dinahline bushfood project has an ongoing grower’s contract with Outback Pride, which guarantees a market for its produce. The Indigenous Land Corporation provided co-investment for this project.
Acknowledgment Aboriginal Lands Trust of South Australia, NRM Team
The following case study describes how NRM projects supported by the ALINRMG have enabled Aboriginal community members to return to country, share their knowledge and experiences with younger generations and, at the same time, make a significant contribution to regional natural resources management outcomes.
On the APY Lands, elders and schoolchildren have played an integral role in the protection of threatened species and other native flora through the control of feral herbivores. Aboriginal community members have been active participants in visual searches and spotlighting for native and feral animals, the placement of baits, and counting scat numbers and tracks. Additionally, the expert knowledge of trackers has been an important component of monitoring the impact of baiting programs. The feral carnivore project has provided an opportunity for Anangu elders to share traditional knowledge with younger generations and children to re-engage with their traditional country. Species of cultural significance to Anangu have been protected. In recognition of the expertise and knowledge of Anangu, fees have been paid for the services they provide.
The ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara Board have long recognised the need for accurate and informative measures of success. Their accredited INRM Plan and Investment Strategy identifies that monitoring and evaluation is needed to assess the effectiveness of actions and investments and, also, provide a basis for changing actions where necessary (adaptive management). Regional monitoring and evaluation needs relate to the targets identified within their INRM Plan, and is required at several levels including:
- Outputs—measuring the actions being implemented. These could include the length of fencing established to protect important areas, the number of hectares revegetated or the number of rockholes rehabilitated.
- Environmental (resource condition) outcomes—measuring the responses of the environment to the actions that are being implemented. This could include changes in water quality in rockholes that have been rehabilitated or the number of native plants that have re-established after removal of weeds.
- Social and economic outcomes—This could include the number of people becoming involved in NRM, trends in health and wellbeing or the increased production resulting from a particular NRM program.
The ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Board have developed an integrated monitoring program to establish comprehensive baseline scientific data for the region. As part of this program, they have also developed creative and innovative mechanisms such as a monitoring and evaluation scorecard to evaluate the achievements and success of the Alinytjara Wilurara Region and its activities. The scorecard can be used for:
- self-evaluation of project and program outcomes
- identification of risks of project failure
- formal evaluation of project and program outcomes.
The scorecard can measure a wide variety of outcomes, including social, economic and environmental, as well as internal management performance and capability.
What is most inspiring about both the ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Board is how they have managed to overcome logistical, language, cultural and socioeconomic challenges often not encountered by other INRM groups or boards. These challenges, although having placed them under significantly more pressure than other INRM groups and boards in South Australia, have made the ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara Board more determined and proactive in their efforts to generate a range of outcomes (social, cultural, economic and environmental) for the benefit of all Aboriginal communities in South Australia.
Partnerships to help address these challenges have been developed by the ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara with Aboriginal land managers, communities and landholding authorities working with government and non-government agencies. They have also made significant progress in developing collaborative programs with other INRM regions in the state and interstate. Significant progress in this area has been achieved through sheer perseverance and the determination of the ALINRMG and Alinytjara Wilurara Board and their staff to enhance community engagement at all levels.
The region faces a serious challenge because there are not extensive data sets for all resources within the region. Parts of the region have virtually nothing to use as a basis to start management actions. Much of the effort in the 2004–05 and subsequent years will be to develop these data baselines.
This case study was written in August 2005. For additional and updated information on the Alinytjara Wilurara region or any other information presented in this document, please refer to the website at www.aboriginalnrm.com.au .
Ms Lorraine Rosenberg, General Manager, Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resource Management Board.
Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resource Management Group (2004). Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan for the Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resource Management Region of South Australia. Aboriginal Lands Integrated Natural Resource Management Group, Inglefarm South Australia. accessed 8 July 2004.
Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resources Management Board 2005, Natural Resources Management Investment Strategy for the Alinytjara Wilurara NRM Region, Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resources Management Board, Adelaide SA.