Indigenous people have been living in Australia and managing bushfires in this harsh climate for more than 65,000 years with its leaders now saying the time has come to let them have greater involvement in the country’s care.
From bushfire management, assisting to revive threatened species, climate change or managing ailing river systems, Indigenous Australians say they have much to offer in environmental leadership.
For more than ten years Traditional Aboriginal fire management programs, which reduce undergrowth that can fuel bigger fires, have been practiced extensively on mainly native lands in Northern Australia. The drastic reduction in wildfires is generating important scientific data and gaining attention worldwide.
Six Seasons Managing Director, Joe Morrison has worked extensively with Indigenous people in Australia and internationally. He says if we wish to live sustainably on one of the harshest continents on earth for generations to come, then we need to tap into the knowledge and skills of our Indigenous population.
“Large parts of Northern Australia are owned and managed by Indigenous people with now in many parts by carefully and skilfully organised Indigenous ranger groups,” Joe says.
He says no longer do the seasons of summer, autumn, winter and spring align with the calendar as they did a decade ago, nor do the wet and dry seasons of Northern Australia.
“Indigenous management is responsive to the changes in the country, regardless of the month which signal actions needing to be taken,” he says.
He says while the fires have sparked a debate about climate change, fuel reduction and land management practices we need to start thinking beyond orthodox approaches.
“There’s questions of sustainability, the role of industry and politics as to how to better manage our resources in an increasingly harsh environment.
“We have to think about the way the nation generates its economy and we need to challenge the old approach of extractive industries and look at how we transition the economic drivers to something which is more sustainable.”
Joe says Australia needs to look at our place in the world, what will be our leadership and legacy on the environment.
“At the moment we are thought about as the country exporting its natural resources at the expense of its environment,” he says.
“We need a new level of leadership and within government and community to drive that change. “
Joe’s view is shared by Peter Yu, the chair of the Indigenous Reference Group to the Northern Ministerial forum.
“It’s a no-brainer but there’s a great deal of bureaucracy and many Indigenous people feel disempowered as we’ve had a chequered history,” he says.
“We need honesty and for a new foundation to be built where the natural custodians of the land work together in partnership with landholders and government for the sake of the environment.”
Throughout the bushfire crisis there has been a number of Indigenous Australians with expertise on fire management discussing the importance of learning how to manage the land.
As one Aboriginal elder told the media fire can be a good servant but a bad master and it’s about teaching people what they should know about the country and understanding fire properly.
“Working with the traditional owners for a fire management regime and to tackle the challenges of climate change presents a lot of opportunities for Australia in so many ways,” Mr Yu says.