Staff and Directors of the Wet Tropics Management Authority attended the World Indigenous Network (WIN) Conference in Darwin in May.
The WIN was initiated to develop an international network of Indigenous land and sea managers where they have the opportunity to share knowledge and experiences. It is hoped that the exchange of information and experience will lead to the broader goals of improved conservation of bio-cultural diversity and sustainable use of natural resources; improved social cohesion and increased economic opportunities and the alleviation of poverty.
Indigenous Ranger programs are seen as a key element to land and sea management. Australia's Indigenous Protected Area and Working on Country programs were highly regarded and valued by the conference delegates.
The conference themes were ‘Territories, Lands and Waters’, ‘Communities and Relationships’, ‘Cultures and Knowledge’, ‘Resources and Livelihoods’, ‘Networks and Exchanges’ and The Future of the World Indigenous Network’.
Key note speakers and case study presentations from around the globe were the highlight of the conference. Unfortunately, we couldn’t attend every presentation as many were held concurrently so we are eagerly waiting until conference proceedings are published. (In the meantime, all sessions were videoed and are available for viewing at http://www.worldindigenousnetwork.net/conference-papers-abstracts ).
However, from attending the conference it is very evident that Indigenous Peoples across the planet endure common issues, even in developed countries such as Canada, New Zealand, USA and Australia. These include:
• Dispossession of their lands and waters (colonisation; forced evictions from their traditional estates for Protected Area declarations and industrial development such as mining, forestry and hydro dams; war)
• Disconnect with the mainstream economy (racist actions resulting in poverty, lack of education/health/housing, denied access and/or control of their lands/assets)
• Cultural beliefs, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and customary practices are still very strong for bio-cultural diversity and sustainable use
• The need for capacity building from grass roots up
• Lack of rights recognition (human, land/waters)
• Disrespect and/or non-recognition of cultural perspectives and beliefs, TEK and customary practices and laws and their value to conservation and sustainable land use
• Finding a balance between conservation and development for economic gain.
Evidence shows us that adequate recognition and providing support results in significant benefits to Indigenous Peoples, local communities and bio-cultural diversity. These benefits include knowledge, skills, income, health, self-esteem, social capital and cohesion, transition of cultures and traditions, improved ecosystem services, climate change mitigation, bio-cultural diversity and protection.
Indigenous Peoples living on, making livelihoods from and being in control of their lands and waters in accord with their cultural beliefs is the best form of conservation management and provision of human rights.
It was very clear that conference delegates highly valued the conference and support the ongoing development of the WIN. However, future resourcing support to its functionality is not that clear. The Equator Initiative of the United Nations Development Program will initially be the driver.
The Australian delegates strongly advocated for a better domestic national network that would inform the WIN.
It is hoped that the Authority will remain engaged in the WIN and support Rainforest Aboriginal people to engage, participate and share learnings with the WIN.
We would also hope to advocate for and support the Rainforest Aboriginal People’s Alliance (RAPA) to establish Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Ranger programs in the central Wet Tropics to complement those to the north and south.
This will further strengthen the Authority’s partnership with Rainforest Aboriginal people, and be in line with our strategic goal to support Rainforest Aboriginal people express their knowledge, culture and management practices on country whilst we promote best practice World Heritage management.