Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
Indigenous control of Indigenous heritage (continued)
This topic has been addressed in part in the previous chapter in relation to community awareness and action, but it is also relevant to Indigenous control of Indigenous knowledge and materials.
The presence or absence of cultural heritage resources such as keeping places, cultural centres and community-held databases may give some indication of Indigenous control of heritage material (see case study Queensland keeping places and cultural centres). However, some communities have consciously decided not to develop these facilities. In some cases communities believe the appropriate 'repository' of cultural knowledge is in the memories of the elders and that this information should be maintained and transmitted through oral tradition (Knowles 2000, p. 2).
The distribution and availability of tangible resources for cultural heritage varies greatly across the nation. In some cases Indigenous organisations maintain their own databases, receive funding for cultural heritage research, and are involved in educational programs. But this follows no clear pattern across the organisations surveyed and would appear to depend on the approach adopted by a community or organisation towards the retention of cultural heritage knowledge. It was reported that several communities were attempting to obtain funding for keeping places, and that a number already exist, but this information is by no means systematic or comprehensive, even at a regional level.
Some communities see increasing knowledge of cultural heritage as crucial to their survival: it can be used in 'connection reports' for Native Title claims and other processes entered into for gaining control over land; it can be used to educate the young and increase community cultural awareness; and it can be used in heritage tours or walks run for tourists. In all these cases, encouraging academic involvement in research is a tool used by a community to strengthen the presentation of its identity, usually to the outside world.
It is clear that not all groups wish to have cultural heritage knowledge widely disseminated, and this is particularly important in the case of sacred sites and burial sites. In many cases knowledge of cultural heritage may be culturally restricted to a few people. Some communities do not inform government agencies of site locations because they are concerned about how the information will be used. One of the central issues is security of information, and in these cases an Indigenous organisation, or individuals, may be entrusted with the information for safe-keeping. Because of this reluctance to provide information, it may therefore be difficult to collect meaningful quantitative data on Indigenous sites and use it as a way of assessing control of Indigenous cultural heritage.
Many of the cultural projects initiated by Indigenous organisations are run with limited resources and under very difficult circumstances. Often they rely on individuals volunteering their time for their survival. This means that if a volunteer is sick, moves or dies then the whole project may no longer have the personnel available to ensure its continuity.
ATSIC provided funding during 1999-2000 under its Heritage Protection program for 25 keeping places and cultural centres at a total cost of $1 952 674.
Museum Victoria which reopened in October 2000 at a new site, features a cultural centre - the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Centre - with an exhibition space, a performance space, an Indigenous garden, an elders' meeting room and a welcoming area. Bunjilaka took five years to develop and involved close consultation with Aboriginal communities across Victoria and relevant interstate communities. As well as being designed as an integral part of the exhibition halls of the new museum, it was also designed as a cultural centre for south-eastern Australian Aborigines and shows the difficult angles of Australia's vexed black-white relationships (Johnston 2000).
While the tourism industry employed 513 000 people or 6% of the nation's total workforce in 1997-98, there were 200 cultural tourism businesses either owned by Indigenous operators or in joint partnership with mainstream companies (the Age, 7 October 2000, p.6). However, some Indigenous people want nothing to do with tourism because of the sociocultural effects of tourism on their people, the environmental effects on Indigenous heritage sites, and the incompatibility of Indigenous lifestyles and tourism.
Greater Indigenous control over the scale and pace of tourism development is an approach reflected in the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Tourism Strategy (1997). South Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales have initiatives targeting the development of Indigenous tourism. While Aboriginal tourism is expanding in New South Wales, Aboriginal ownership is minimal with just 39 out of 250 Aboriginal tour operations being Aboriginal-owned. The New South Wales policy addresses the role of non-Indigenous operators in the development and delivery of Aboriginal tourism products, describing appropriate protocols for non-Indigenous tour operators wanting to work with Indigenous people or include Indigenous attractions in their tour products, and covering issues such as copyright and intellectual property rights, authenticity, joint ventures, gaining permission to visit Indigenous sites, the need to recognise Indigenous cultural diversity, and the need for sensitivity towards aspects of Indigenous culture. The Kimberley Aboriginal Tourism Strategy (1996) and Jawoyn Association: Towards Best Practice (1996) are examples of regionally based Indigenous tourism development strategies.
Indigenous imagery used in tourism marketing suggests stereotypes which make it almost impossible for Indigenous tour operators to appeal to people on any other basis (Pitcher et al. 1999). The classic stereotype is of an Aboriginal person standing on one leg with a spear on a rock; local Indigenous children in the Kimberleys have started to adopt this stance for tourists (pers. comm., Patrick McConvell). These stereotypes also reinforce the idea that the 'real' people are gone, or provoke tourists to search for authentic Aboriginal people.
Recently the National Travel and Tourism Corporation has altered its imagery promoting Indigenous tourism by presenting contemporary images of Aboriginality and providing Indigenous perspectives on culture and country. Major product providers, often Indigenous cooperatives, supply culturally appropriate material related to locality-specific culture and places, such as with Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Kakadu cultural tourism, the Wet Tropics Bama Wabu tours, and the New South Wales Metropolitan Land Council tours or the various Gallery outlets.
Source: National Centre for Tourism, Jane Lennon and Associates and EcOz (1999).
Example of Indigenous tourism brochure (Anangu Tours).
Source: Anangu Tours
There appears to have been a modest but steady improvement in the nature and degree of Indigenous involvement in, and control over, decisions concerning management of Indigenous heritage places and material culture collections. However, it may be that only the good news is being reported. Evidence suggests that there are some disadvantages in adhering to access protocols.
From a State of the Environment perspective, there is still insufficient reliable quantitative information with continental coverage to make clear statements about the scale of change over time, but the incomplete information that is available does suggest that:
- in 1996 Indigenous people controlled 15% of the total Australian land area (compared with almost 8% in National Park or conservation reserve tenures) and this trend is increasing;
- the numbers of Indigenous people employed by government agencies who are using their knowledge of their cultural heritage stood at more than 293 in 1999-2000;
- the increased efforts for the repatriation of Indigenous materials to 1999-2000 illustrates the success of the coordinated approach that is being developed between the Commonwealth, States and the Northern Territory and the consequent increase in funding for repatriation.
ATSIC funded programs for 25 keeping places or cultural centres across Australia during 1999-2000 and also funded five database projects.
Information provided by Indigenous organisations shows that:
- The ideal way for Indigenous communities to maintain control over their heritage is to have ownership of their lands.
- The distribution and availability of tangible resources for cultural heritage varies greatly across the nation.
- Protocols for working with Indigenous cultural heritage are not always observed by outside instrumentalities, including government departments. This would suggest that the strategy of developing protocols to ensure that Indigenous cultural heritage will be protected in culturally appropriate ways is not necessarily an adequate response to the pressures confronting the maintenance of Indigenous cultural heritage.
One way in which Indigenous communities can reassert some control over their cultural heritage is through gaining possession of cultural heritage materials, including human remains and Indigenous artefacts, that are held by museums. The return of these items to a community can enhance young people's knowledge of their culture.
Not all Indigenous communities wish to have cultural heritage knowledge widely disseminated, and this is particularly important in the case of sacred sites and burial sites. In many cases knowledge of cultural heritage may be culturally restricted to a few people. Some communities do not tell government agencies when they find sites because they are concerned about how the information will be used. One of the central issues is security of information, and in these cases an Indigenous organisation, or respected individuals, may be entrusted with the information for safe keeping.
Some communities do see increasing academic knowledge of their cultural heritage as crucial to their survival. These communities may use the knowledge acquired from academic studies in 'connection reports' for Native Title claims and other processes entered into for gaining control over land. The information may also be used in the education of the young and in order to increase non-Indigenous Australia's cultural awareness. In addition, it may be used in heritage tours or walks run for tourists. In all these cases encouraging academic involvement in research is a tool used by a community to strengthen the presentation of its identity, usually to the outside world.
Funding for Indigenous heritage projects is an issue. Many Indigenous organisations run these facilities with limited resources and under very difficult circumstances. While initial funding may be available for the establishment of facilities, there is rarely any reliable funding available for the long-term maintenance of these projects. They often rely on voluntary labour for their survival. This means that if a volunteer is sick, moves or dies then the whole project may no longer be viable.