10 Involving Aboriginal communities
Much of the information in this section is taken from two documents, the DEC discussion paper, Threatened species recovery planning and Aboriginal community involvement by Anthony English and Lynn Baker, and Ask first - a guide to respecting indigenous heritage places and values by the Australian Heritage Commission. See Appendix 13 (appendixthirteen06348.pdf 171 kb) for more information on these.
10.1 Why is Aboriginal community engagement important?
For Aboriginal people the environment has a special cultural meaning and significance. Any engagement with Aboriginal communities requires a respect for Aboriginal culture and an awareness of their special connection with the land.
Aboriginal community involvement in recovery planning is particularly important for the following reasons:
- consistency with kinship relationships Aboriginal people have an interest in ensuring that recovery planning fits within or supports their views about species protection and the maintenance of kinship relationships
- cultural knowledge Aboriginal people may be able to provide a historical context on species and habitat management and contribute important knowledge and perspectives
- managers of high conservation areas In some regions, Aboriginal people are owners or managers of areas of land with a high conservation value, so their engagement will facilitate better conservation outcomes
- legislation The consideration of Aboriginal interests is required in recovery plans under both state and federal legislation
- cultural renewal Engagement with threatened species projects provides an opportunity for Aboriginal groups to restore and strengthen connections to the land, connecting with future generations and passing on knowledge
- holistic view of the landscape Aboriginal people have a holistic view of the landscape (ie biological and non-biological components are interconnected) and do not separate the landscape into natural and cultural features.
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10.2 Major issues to consider
The following steps should be taken when consulting with Aboriginal communities:
- determine which recovery plans to consult on Aboriginal people may prefer to be consulted on a number of species within a landscape rather than a single species. There may also be instances where they do not wish to be involved in particular recovery plans. Approaching them in the earliest stages of recovery plan preparation will allow them to identify what level of engagement they wish to have
- determining who and how to consult (see section 10.3 for further information)
- make involvement meaningful Because of legislative requirements to consult with Aboriginal groups, care must be taken to ensure that they are not presented with a flood of indifferent consultation efforts driven purely by process. Consultation should represent important social and cultural issues for Aboriginal people, and be targeted to achieve cultural and conservation outcomes.
- develop trust Aboriginal people are most likely to be involved in projects if the project manager or organisation has credibility, and will respond best when a relationship has been established with the project organisers.
- allow time for the decision-making process Aboriginal processes for consultation and decision making can be different from those used by non-Aboriginal people. Respect must be provided for Aboriginal processes and provision made for them in the project planning framework. Remember also that answers to questions can often be indirect.
- involve people in recovery plan development It is important that the Aboriginal people being consulted are included early in the planning process, and are given the opportunity to write or contribute to a range of sections of the plan. They should be given opportunities to review and edit the document to ensure that it reflects their viewpoint.
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Figure 1 (flowchart.pdf 9 kb, requires Acrobat Reader) is a guide for approaching and working with Aboriginal communities. Once relationships are established, some of the recommendations may not be considered necessary, but they remain a useful starting point (from Ask first - a guide to respecting indigenous heritage places and values, Australian Heritage Commission - see Appendix 13 for publishing details)
Consultation should be undertaken for each new stage of the project unless agreement is made otherwise.
Identifying stakeholders The following groups can advise on how to identify relevant Aboriginal people authorised to speak for a place, and others with interests in NSW:
- NSW Aboriginal Land Council
- Local Aboriginal land councils
- Department of Environment and Conservation NSW
- NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs
- Aboriginal coordinating centres
- National Native Title Tribunal
- NSW Department of Lands, Native Title Branch
- NSW Native Title Services and other native title representative bodies
- Native title claimants
- prescribed body corporates under the Native Title Act.
Talk to state agency staff responsible for managing Aboriginal sites or experienced in working with Aboriginal groups, as well as regional Aboriginal community support officers or the equivalent. In situations where the area of responsibility is not clear or is very broad, work with state conservation agency Aboriginal heritage staff to decide on an appropriate approach.
Investigate whether the interests of Aboriginal people from surrounding areas may also be affected by a project or activity.
Identify and adhere to any process or protocols that Aboriginal people have established for consultation:
- wherever possible, avoid contacting Aboriginal groups without prior introduction from known and respected contacts.
- if working in an area on a particular species or issue, meet with a group who are representatives of Country and discuss your interest in working in the area. Avoid entering discussion by asking a question or requesting an answer.
- allow time for Aboriginal people to decide whether they wish to become involved in the activity or project.
- respect Aboriginal people's right to choose the time of and location for the meetings.
- check to see whether you should talk to other Aboriginal groups about the project. It may be appropriate for consultation to occur in smaller groups rather than large meetings.
- when deemed necessary, request assistance from the DEC Aboriginal Heritage Conservation Officer in the region.
It is important to agree on the process such as the manner, timing and level of consultation and involvement required for the project. Remember that Aboriginal groups want the opportunity to determine the consultation process rather than have one imposed on them.
Process issues to consider include:
- copyright and ownership regarding any work undertaken with Aboriginal people
- processes for obtaining informed consent from Aboriginal people to display any information gathered, including publishing on the internet - possibly include an information agreement
- involvement of Aboriginal people in developing terms of reference for any consultancies, and in the selection process
- any values and issues that cannot be discussed in an open meeting of all stakeholders
- the handling of sensitive information that may be uncovered or disclosed in the course of identifying Aboriginal heritage values.
In meeting with stakeholders:
- arrange an early meeting of all identified stakeholders to provide a forum where Aboriginal people can explain issues relating to Aboriginal heritage
- agree upon processes for mediating and resolving disputes between parties that may arise during the course of the project - in the case of disputes between Aboriginal groups, allow the groups to resolve the issues themselves and do not interfere in that process
- involve representatives of state heritage agencies to help identify any reporting or legislative requirements.
In identifying management requirements, you should respect the fact that Aboriginal people may need time to reach a consensus on appropriate conservation and management strategies.
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10.4 Potential Aboriginal cultural links with threatened species management
The checklist below highlights a potential set of cultural issues that each recovery plan coordinator might want to consider when setting up collaborative programs with communities, and when writing recovery actions and strategies:
- Is the species, population or ecological community one that Aboriginal people wish to be consulted about?
- Is the species associated with traditional stories, past or present hunting and gathering, gender issues, culturally valued places, totemic/kinship values, or material culture such as weapons, tools, decoration or art?
- Are the species currently harvested or used by Aboriginal people and to what extent?
- Is the species an indicator for cultural events (eg the flowering of a plant may indicate other events occurring in the local environment such as the availability of fish and other resources)?
- Is the species or habitat associated with spiritual places/entities?
- Is it associated with economic interests, eg cultural tourism, medical value?
- Does it occur on Aboriginal owned or managed lands?
- Can collaborative research and management programs be established with Aboriginal people and organisations?
- Will capture and handling offend cultural values?
- Will research and planning occur in areas of cultural concern, eg in men's or women's places?
- Will recovery actions conflict with cultural uses, eg species harvesting and access to Country for ceremonies or education?
These issues may not all be relevant to any one recovery plan. Equally, Aboriginal people may not wish to reveal or comment on some of these points, as they may be associated with protected cultural knowledge. These types of questions need to be phrased and asked appropriately to avoid them being deemed offensive or insensitive.
It may be helpful to review existing cultural heritage policy documents from your organisation or agency.
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10.5 Cultural considerations when consulting with Aboriginal communities
The following guidelines have been largely taken from DEC's Cultural Heritage Community Consultation Policy. This is based on the model consultation policy developed by the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs and protocols used by the staff of DEC's Cultural Heritage Division.
In working with Aboriginal communities it is important to understand some cultural values which may impact on the success of any consultation process:
- Recognise the inseparable links between Aboriginal culture, land and everyday lives. Managing Aboriginal cultural heritage is as much about managing lifestyle issues such as access and use of resources as it is about managing species, places and landscapes.
- Accept that Aboriginal people must have input into decision making on issues of Aboriginal heritage so they can continue to fulfil their obligations to this heritage.
- Recognise that within the Aboriginal community there may be a number of distinct organisations with members who have valuable information on the issue being consulted on.
- Recognise that organisations may not be able to speak for all people who have information on the issue being consulted on.
- All relevant parties should be notified of, and included in, the consultations that occur in their areas of operation. However, the decision whether to participate will be made by the individual or organisation.
- Access to information may be restricted to specific groups or individuals therefore gender, age and clan associations need to be respected.
- Men and women may have different interests and rights in an area, and both of these must be identified when consulting with Aboriginal groups.
- It may be appropriate for separate male and female teams to undertake consultation with Aboriginal groups.
- Given the importance of personal contact and the development of trust, it may be appropriate to be introduced to the community by a person the community trusts and respects.
- Before conducting consultations with an Aboriginal community, contact the DEC's Aboriginal Heritage Conservation Officer (AHCO) responsible for the area. The AHCO can provide general community information and may be able to introduce you to the community.
- Before sensitive information is imparted to someone outside a group, a relationship of trust needs to be established. This may take considerable time.
- Recognise that meetings will not necessarily start on time, and people will join and leave a meeting throughout its duration.
- Communities may need time to consider the information before providing a response. Silence in a meeting should not be viewed as giving consent or agreement and also should not be viewed as being hostile.
- Communities may take some time to formally respond to information/options put to them. Negotiate a timeframe with community organisations for feedback.
- Due to issues with 'gratuitous concurrence' (people agreeing with statements put to them in order to stop the questioning) the use of closed (yes/no) questions should be avoided. Questions should be open ended to facilitate explanation.
- Looking directly at a person may be considered rude, and lack of eye contact should be treated as a sign of respect, not avoidance.
- Accept that Aboriginal people may not articulate the reasons for opposing a project or activity.
- Acknowledge that Aboriginal people must control intellectual property and other information relating specifically to their heritage.
- It may be necessary to develop separate project reports for male and female traditional owners, as well as another for general public interest (free of restricted information).
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10.6 Possibilities for Aboriginal engagement
Below is a list of potential management actions that can be used to recognise the social, cultural and economic interests Aboriginal people may have in a recovery plan and its contents. It may be useful to use this list as a talking point when seeking to determine community views and interests in long-term implementation of a plan. Do not, however, enter discussions with pre-formed plans or expectations about people's involvement:
- Establish ongoing management actions on Aboriginal-owned lands or collaborative programs on freehold or public lands which allow community involvement in monitoring, surveying, captive breeding, propagation, pest and fire management and habitat restoration.
- Promote training for Aboriginal people to allow them to undertake specific management tasks, eg bush regeneration, surveying, monitoring, research and pest species control.
- Engage Aboriginal people as contractors to undertake specific management actions such as those listed above.
- Ensure that any key management action which may occur or is funded in the future involves ongoing consultation and discussion with Aboriginal people.
- Consider establishing a program in local schools, which allows Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children to carry out an activity that supports species management or raises awareness of their cultural values.
- Consider whether conservation hotspots intersect with places of high cultural value and if so, use this as a basis for prioritising where on-ground management actions might occur.
- Use a recovery action to assist Aboriginal people to pass on and share cultural knowledge about a species within their own community, eg via cross-generational involvement in an action.
- Use the plan to develop Aboriginal people's capacity to understand the theory and practice of land management used by government.
- Use a plan to develop agency and landowner understanding of Aboriginal community values, knowledge and interests.
- Explore how existing local cultural tourism operations run by Aboriginal people might benefit from recovery plan actions.
- Explore options for economic benefit to Aboriginal communities from the commercial cultivation of threatened species.
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Page last updated: 28 February 2011