The Black Bean Tree by Jirrbal artist Beau Pennefather Motlop

19 Sept 2023

REGENERATING NATURE RELIES ON FIRST NATIONS VOICES

By Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia Australians have used their voices to put climate and the environment on the nations agenda. The recent 2019-20 bushfires, floods, Great Barrier Reef coral bleaching and other events have added an urgency to the call to action. We as a nation have signalled our desire to join a global movement to live in a healthier and fairer natural world. The global challenges of protecting, restoring and regenerating nature persist, but it’s the collective response from people around the world fills me with optimism. Together, we can envision what is possible for a regenerative future.

To address nature destruction and climate change, we need to speed up and scale-up solutions. In doing so, our mission at WWF-Australia is: Together, we will restore and regenerate Sky, Country and Saltwater that allow people and nature to thrive.

First Nations Peoples have a deep connection with nature going back thousands of generations – we need to learn from their experiences and teachings on living in harmony with the planet. Science has much to learn from the knowledge and traditions of First Peoples, to bring change on a global scale for climate, nature and people.

Putting First Nations voices at the heart of decisions is about caring for Country. It’s critical that we support First Peoples unique role in securing the future of Australia’s environment. Their voice can lead the way towards healthy country, healthy saltwater, healthy sky.

A Voice to progress achievements in regenerating nature

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is one of the oldest continuing living cultures on the planet. We see the depth of Traditional Owners’ care for Country through their efforts to regenerate nature in areas where current and past practices have brought destruction and extinction.

Indigenous Protected Areas (IPA) are an example where partnerships between governments and Traditional Owners are enhancing land management practices. In these vast areas, Traditional Owners make decisions about Country based on community goals – goals that favour a harmonious relationship between people and nature.

WWF has been privileged through its relationships to be able to listen to Traditional Owners and have done since the first IPAs were signed in the late 1990s. Today, there are 82 IPAs working in partnership with Traditional Owners to protect more than 87 million hectares of land. That’s 50% of Australia's total network of protected areas. It’s impossible to overstate how important Indigenous rangers are to managing those areas. Their voices carry ancient knowledge essential to managing Country in a sustainable way. Through IPAs, WWF has supported the ranger numbers to grow into the thousands. Importantly, in the past six years, we’ve helped to double the number of women rangers.

Australia’s IPA program is not well-known. As a nation, we should be proud of our IPA network on land and sea Country. But this is also world leading and we should also be promoting the work of our indigenous rangers and land managers to the world.

Walking together towards a strong environment.

Caring for Country using Traditional Land Management practices benefits all of us. To see those benefits, we must start by recognising the injustices imposed upon Australia’s First Peoples and taking steps towards truth-telling and reconciliation.

Changing the Australian Constitution is a start. The First Nations communities we work with tell us that having a say in how Country is managed gives them empowerment, cultural connection and overall well-being. These positive outcomes extend beyond the individual to meaningful change for communities. People have an opportunity to live more equally.

When a rich, ancient and nature-focused culture is protected and celebrated, Country becomes more resilient. Embedding a First Nations Voice to Parliament could accelerate good outcomes for nature and help us move towards a brighter future together.

Recognising First Peoples is the start of an important shared journey

We all know that there is a lot of work to be done.

The Australian Government can listen, learn and act more effectively to regenerate Sky, Country and Saltwater through a Voice to Parliament.

WWF-Australia recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples – first scientists and conservationists – of our nation.

On 14 October, I am voting Yes for respecting Country, for valuing First Nations knowledge, and for regenerating Sky, Country and Saltwater that allow people and nature to thrive.