A large area of land in north-west Tasmania has been returned to the local Aboriginal community thanks to a donation from the founder of travel website Wotif. See Starfish’s latest newspost for more details.
A fifth generation NSW farmer, Charles Massy has always had an intimate relationship with the land he works. But his experience of the drought years, earning a PhD in human ecology as a mature student and listening to the wisdom of his Aboriginal friends has convinced him that the white man’s ‘mechanical mind’ understanding of natural systems is severely flawed.
Massy is the author of Call of the Reed Warbler: A New Agriculture – A New Earth, in which he makes a poetic as well as scholarly case for a revolution in the way we think about the soil beneath our feet.
He links the widespread use of glyphosphate (Roundup) to a whole slew of autoimmune diseases and disorders such as Autism and ADHD, which he says are intimately linked to immune function and therefore gut health.
Massy believes that healthy soil equals healthy, nutrient rich food, and he has therefore become a practitioner and vocal proponent of biodiverse planting and holistic grazing, which have transformed the ecosystems on his farm.
“If people ate truly nutrient-rich food out of healthy soil, you would slash the national health bill straight away. The big chemical companies and big food companies know exactly what they are doing. It is now causing millions of deaths – tell me why that is not genocide?”
But it’s not just the benefits to humans that interest Massy. He would like to see humans get out of the way of nature and let the ‘self-organising regulating system’ of the Earth recover equilibrium. For an example of how this can be done in the unique Australian landscape he points to pre-colonial times and the way Aboriginal people nurtured and nourished the land and lived in “one of the greatest ever sustainable partnerships between humankind and the ecosystems they occupied”.
When the soil is nurtured in this way, what emerges is:
“a burgeoning mass of life and activity that is 10-fold that above the ground; fungi bacteria, and other organisms have begun to create and sustain an entirely different, living absorbent soil structure; the very heart and essence of healthy farming and landscape function. The secret is to simply restore healthy landscape function and allow nature to do the rest.”
The Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation are taking an active role in the management of six state and national parks and reserves which are within the Country which was returned to the Dja Dja Wurrung people in a recognition agreement in 2013.
The Dhelkunya Dja Land Management Board, will manage the parks and reserves in partnership with Parks Victoria. They have appointed CSIRO to lead the creation of a Joint Management Plan, which will have Dja Dja Wurrung’s 20-year vision for people (Jaara) and country (Djanderk) at its centre.
Graham Atkinson, chairperson of the board, who was instrumental in negotiating recognition of traditional ownership with the state government says:
“Our Country Plan acknowledges that we must transmit our cultural heritage to younger generations. The Dja Dja Wurrung people have kept their connection to country alive through oral history, as well as through researching historical publications written at the time of European settlement.”
Dr Ro Hill, who will be leading the CSIRO team as they develop the joint management plan, recognises the importance of ‘weaving together’ traditional and scientific knowledge in order to benefit from both. He also believes that some of the ways of seeing the land enshrined in traditional knowledge, such as a focus on larger, more visible species, may be make the parks management strategy more accessible to the public. In the same vein, he notes that the holistic way of understanding how humans and the landscape are connected has influenced national parks management worldwide, as exemplified by Parks Victoria’s ‘Healthy Parks, Healthy People’ campaign.
Both Queensland and the Northern Territory have made moves this month to review and change place names which could be offensive and hurtful to Aboriginal people.
In May Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources and Mines responded to community concerns about one place name by removing it from its databases. This sparked a departmental review which identified nine other place names which will be changed.
The Northern Territory has quickly followed suit, with NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner asking the place names committee to carry out a review and make changes where necessary. Minister Gunner has also publicly committed to more inclusive signage including Aboriginal place names as well as their frontier history versions.
“It’s very clear to me that we don’t have a proper inclusion of the first people in our very basic culture. And I want to work on that,” he said.
Jonathan Richards, who is an adjunct research fellow in history at the University of Queensland, believes that the argument for changing place names, as well as removing statues of pro-slavery figures, is clear cut. He believes that some people’s desire to maintain offensive historical names and monuments is partly due to a reluctance by Australians in general to acknowledge the truths of colonial history. He believes that telling the real stories behind names such as ‘Murder Creek’ and ‘Skull Hole’ is critically important.
“”I think certainly there are statues and place names that it’s fine to keep, but I think people really need to stop and think, ‘How would they feel?’ You wouldn’t for a minute have a statue of an enemy, yet Aboriginal people are constantly being told to get over it.”
University of Queensland race relations research fellow Fiona Barlow believes that the name changes may improve Aboriginal people’s health.
“There’s been multiple studies now that have shown that repeated exposure to everyday racism has negative effects on our health and wellbeing… Renaming these places… sends a symbolic message about what we value as Australians and it could have a genuine positive affect on health.”
Read more ~ Racist place names in Queensland’s north to be wiped off maps by Meghna Bali in ABC News
Researchers at the University of Newcastle are attempting to gain a clearer picture of events during the frontier wars by gathering evidence of massacres of Indigenous people which are seldom discussed and have never made it into most history books.
Lead researcher Lyndall Ryan and her team are going right back to explorer and settler records and using Indigenous oral history as their sources. Their strict criteria for inclusion in the map, and the difficulty of finding accounts due to the fact that the perpetrators usually covered their tracks well, means that their estimates are conservative. Nevertheless, they estimate that more than 65,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were killed in massacres or conflicts between 1788 and 1930 in Queensland alone.
The map was released on the 5th of July and will be added to over time. The researchers hope that others will contribute to the project so as to build the most accurate picture possible of the events during the frontier wars, changing the way this period of Australian history is understood and taught. However, Ryan acknowledges that this will be confronting, both for the researchers themselves and for the Australian pubic, who may not wish to face up to this brutal version of their country’s history.
“I would like to hope that over the next five or 10 years there will be a much wider acceptance that this was a feature of colonial Australia, and it will change the way we think about Australia,” she said.
The economic costs of rising sea levels due to climate change are beginning to hit home as a $24.5m sea wall is completed on Saibai Island in the Torres Strait.
The small island just off the coast of Papua New Guinea has been suffering the effects of land erosion and flooding due to rising sea levels for years. At one point it was feared that its 350 inhabitants would have to be permanently evacuated. However, in 2014, under the Torres Strait Seawalls Project, the Australian Federal and Queensland governments pledged a total of $26.2 million to help the islands deal with the crisis.
$24 million has now been spent building only one seawall on Saibai and, whilst this sea wall is expected to protect the community and its livelihood for 50 years, it leaves little money for infrastructure on the other 5 islands in need of protection. Preliminary talks to try and secure more funding are now underway.
However, with sea levels rising by millimetres every year, inhabitants of the other islands can not afford to wait for beaureaucracy. They are at risk of losing land and culture in the very near future, despite adaptation plans which are being developed. This is especially true for the narrow coral island of Poruma, to the south of Saibai.
“Time is very critical in terms of getting some work underway so we can actually protect and combat erosion at Poruma — Poruma doesn’t have time to wait,” said Torres Strait Mayor, Fred Gela.
Queensland Minister for Local Government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, Mark Furner said that the Palaszczuk Government’s $12 million contribution to the Torres Strait Seawalls Project demonstrated their commitment to improving communities in regional and remote parts of Queensland.
“These are Queenslanders facing real risks to their homes and livelihoods as a result of the impacts of climate change, so to be able to provide a long‐term infrastructure solution is a great win for this community.”
However, it remains to be seen if government will remain so committed and optimistic as the inevitable economic costs of climate change continue to rise.
The theme of this year’s NAIDOC week was ‘Our Languages Matter’ and to prove the point an ABC News article showcased three Indigenous translators who bring the Australian and International news to their language communities in their own language, through the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS).
This adds huge value for Aboriginal people in areas where English may be their fourth or fifth language and may never be spoken at home. Hearing the news in their own first language enables people to connect with the issues facing the world at large.
“It helps them understand the news better when they hear it in their language — it gives them a better understanding of what it’s about.” Says Tyrone Holmes, who is a Kriol interpreter for AIS.
A revolutionary health care system run by and for indigenous people and incorporating indigenous healthcare perspectives has become an international model for health care reform.
Since Southcentral Foundation (SCF) began overseeing healthcare provision for Alaska Native and American Indian people in Alaska, emergency room visits have dropped by 36%. Deaths from cancer, heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease have dropped by 26%, 47%, and 59%, respectively and infant mortality has also dropped by 58%. This has all been achieved while also cutting costs.
SCF serves a population of 136,000 native people spread out over 108,000 square miles, including more than 200 native villages, many of which are only accessible by boat or air. The system involves partnerships with 51 village health clinics, medical teams who regularly travel to villages and tele-medicine, and is centred around the Native Primary Care Centre in Anchorage, where nearly half of the entire population of Alaska lives.
The health centre has the feel of a community centre and is decorated with indigenous art and craft, which increases pride and self-confidence in its ‘customerowners’ (as users of the clinic are called). It also has open offices and offers integrated treatments including complementary and traditional medicine, support with substance abuse, mental health, and home health. This all forms part of a preventative approach which aims to deal with the root causes of illness and to encourage healthy lifestyle choices.
“Emphasis on prevention and integrated healthcare delivery results in less demand for specialty care and fewer emergency room visits. Equally important is the understanding that physical health is bound to social and spiritual wellbeing. Wellness, in this model, comes from facilitating cultural connection and strengthening families and communities.”
SCF recognises that indigenous people are at particular risk of health issues because of their history, with the fallout from years of epidemics, high levels of child abuse in missions and boarding schools and the loss of culture, community and identity all contributing to current high levels of domestic and child abuse and drug and alcohol misuse. To counter this, the effects of multi-generational trauma are treated by tribal doctors along with current health issues in an integrated, holistic process.
Preventative, holistic healthcare would seems to make sense for us all, but the Nuka System of Care developed by Southcentral Foundation has particular relevance for indigenous communities because of the specific issues those communities face and the way it leverages the rich traditional knowledge that is already present.
SCF offer training, site visits and consulting to share this system with other healthcare providers worldwide.
What do Kakadu Plums, Champagne and Camenbert Cheese have in common? Not much as yet. But some people would like to see Australia adopt rules and policies for bush foods which protect the interests of the place they come from and the people who hold special knowledge about them, as is the case in Europe. This would ensure traditional owners have a stake in the exploitation of these foods and are reimbursed for their intellectual property.
In Europe, “products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography” are sometimes covered by ‘protected geographical indications‘ which only allow, for example, sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne. These rules support rural development by establishing a unique provenance that in turn can create jobs in processing and production of these commodities locally.
Wendy Morgan, chair of the Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council, argues that such measures are necessary since currently corporations have no qualms about exploiting indigenous knowledge, and this is a missed opportunity to generate income for Aboriginal communities.
“You’ll have the big pharmaceutical companies coming out and talking to [Aboriginal communities] and taking samples of their medicines. They might acknowledge where they got it from, but there is no money going back into that community they got the information from.”
Under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, when products are taken from specific locations the benefits from those products should be shared with the providers of those resources, be they national governments or indigenous communities.
However, there are loopholes in Australian law which allow international companies to bypass this process. There is also the possibility that Aboriginal people could be legislated out of their own heritage, as almost happened in when a major US cosmetics company tried to patent an extract of Kakadu Plum.
These issues are all the more relevant because the bush food market, including other well-known native Australian plants such as lemon myrtle, wattle seed, finger lime, warrigal greens, quandong and bush tomatoes, appears to be on the verge of booming. It has even been suggested that Australia may have to start importing bush foods to meet demand.
According to Jocelyn Grant, the general manager of First Australians Capital, one of the major factors holding back the bush food market is lack of supply due to current protocols. These mandate that when a not-for-profit business that processes, for example, Kakadu plums, seeks government grants and financial support they have to sign over all the IP to the government. She’d like to see this change.
“Why wouldn’t we look at a whole-of-government strategy where not only are we protecting indigenous foods and the rights of people passing on knowledge about those foods ~ but also the value to the Australian economy is huge because it is an export opportunity,” she says.
Read more ~
A pair of entrepreneurial brothers have opened up their Australian online art-selling platform to remote outback art centres, allowing hundreds of previously isolated indigenous artists direct access to art buyers around the world.
Edward and George Hartley founded Bluethumb to address two major issues they saw within the art industry: a way for normal people to buy art, and assisting emerging artists to find a market. Their online platform solves both of these problems in one fell swoop by giving artists a forum to display their work directly to art enthusiasts, no matter how far removed the two may be geographically. This has clear benefits for the many Aboriginal artists living in remote areas.
By working in partnership with some of the 90 or so art centres in regional Northern Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, the brothers have opened up and simplified the sales process for some of the 13,000 Aboriginal artists represented by these organisations. They currently have 3% Aboriginal artists on their books, a figure which is in line with the percentage of Aboriginal people in Australian society, and they are firmly committed to encouraging more to join.
The results so far have been promising with all eight arts centres making sales in the first fortnight. Mel Henderson, the interim art centre manager of Papulankutja Artists in Blackstone community (800km from Alice Springs in the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands) is pleased with the relationship.
“Bluethumb is fast becoming a strong advocate promoting not only the work of artists yet also the work remote arts centres do.”
Bluethumb employs a simple business model appears to be making a genuine effort to recruit Aboriginal artists. This makes for an unprecedented opportunity for them to get their work out to appreciative audiences worldwide.
See more ~ Bluethumb online Aboriginal art gallery
Starfish acknowledges the first peoples and traditional owners of the land that we live and work on in Australia and all around the world. We pay our respects to their ancestors and Elders ~ past, present and future. Starfish is committed to honouring and respecting first peoples’ unique cultural and spiritual relationships to the land, waters and seas, and their rich contributions to our communities and society-at-large.