Over the past four decades Aboriginal people living in remote Australia have been empowered by land rights and native title laws to claim back large tracts of their ancestral lands. Today the Indigenous estate covers over 20 per cent of the continent and includes areas of globally significant biodiversity and cultural value, many now declared as Indigenous Protected Areas within the National Reserve System. However, none of the Indigenous estate is in pre-colonial condition and it faces a myriad of environmental threats.
Over the last five years a small team of researchers at the ANU have undertaken an unusual collaboration with a number of ranger groups in the Top End who are living on, working on and caring for the lands and seas that they own and manage. The project People on Country, Healthy Landscapes and Indigenous Economic Futures, mainly funded by the Sidney Myer Fund and the ARC, is nearing completion. It aimed to reposition Indigenous people and their caring for country activities from the margins to the very core of the growing national concerns on issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and resource depletion. It seeks to challenge the Australian public, policy community and politicians to re-imagine the role that the Caring for Country movement, deploying a mix of western scientific and Indigenous ecological knowledge systems and techniques, must play in the proper environmental management of Australia in the 21st century.
This seminar looks to relate the history of this project and report from its final product - a book People on Country, Vital Landscapes, Indigenous Futures to be released by The Federation Press in October. The seminar will focus especially on some of the recent institutional changes and challenges, many associated with the NTER Intervention, that the Aboriginal Caring for Country movement faces.
Jon Altman is a social sciences research professor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), The Australian National University, Canberra. From 1990–2010 he was Foundation Director of CAEPR. Professor Altman has recently focused his research attention on the role that natural and cultural resource management might play in the complex development challenges facing Indigenous hybrid economies in very remote regions.