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Setting The Black Green Agenda

Richard Aken - Cape York Land Council

32 Florence Street, PO Box 2496, Cairns, Queensland, 4870.

Phone:(07)40519077 Fax:(07) 4051 0097 Free Call: 1800 623 458


Over the years, European Australian Colonial Policy has split up my people, moved them from their lands, seas and caused us problems that we still live today. We now have few resources and little control over what happens in our Country. After 211 years of deculturation, disempowerment and lack of recognition, we are now being expected to interact with our European Australian colonisers in a way that they understand and on their terms. We are expected to show unity and speak with one voice on all sorts of things, including Country.

First Australians do have unity - we have unity of purpose and intent about our lands and sea rights. We have unity about the need for recognition and the desire for respect and understanding. We have one voice on these things but like all adults we have different cultural ideas and different experiences to bring to the ways we can achieve these things. We find that the agendas for our Country have already been set for us. These agendas come from Western Society - the Westminster System. They come from a science view of the world. The whole agenda is full of biology, ecology and economics. It's also full of political games and political gains for all people except us.

Land and Spirit

We hear words like "Biodiversity", ESD - Ecologically Sustainable Development Endangered Species". We don't hear words like "Cultural Diversity", "SSD" Spiritually Sustainable Development: Endangered Sites & Totems" and "Social Justice" We hear conservation talked about as an end - "a wilderness area, a conservation zone", and "conservation agreement". We don't hear conservation being talked about as a principle or guide for living in our country.

Where is our agenda?

Where is our definition of conservation or "green"?

Where are our agendas about the spirits of the lands, seas and our peoples ?

Where is our knowledge seen as important in all this?

We still have people out there telling us what it's all about and telling us the ways that we can be involved in their view of looking after country. We are consulted like any other interest group. We can contribute our ideas, we can tell them where our sites are, we can tell them what the sites mean and what people, and law and lore belong here. We can do this within the boundaries of land and seas that they draw up and within their definition of "green". We can talk about ESD (Ecologically Sustainable Development). We can do the jobs that they say we can do. We can be rangers, guides, and informers to help get their agendas dealt with.

We can do all the giving, but we can't do the talking. We are restricted from the big stuff. We can't be policy-makers, we can't be setting the agendas, and we can't be directing the action and research. The legislation makes the power and control sit with the Western views of the world. The laws about conservation and environment require boundaries to be drawn up, even when we know that these can change for cultural and family reasons. We are asked to explain what is important within these boundaries as if these things don't change either.

Even our Native Title acts make sure that some expert, usually a European Australian, has to see if what we say about country is true. What they say is what goes. We are treated like children, as if our knowledge is less true and less important than theirs is.

The spirits of my country are not happy with all these boundaries and demand to know. They don't follow this white law. The ancestors are not happy, they are telling me to look out for my country using our Kerrnge lore. It is the same for all of us in different ways. We need this Spiritually Sustainable Development (SSD) on the agenda. We need to talk to the country and show respect. We need to make sure we keep up the ceremonies of all sorts that go with looking at development proposals for using land, seas and the natural resources that they offer.

I am not saying that ESD and the science worldview and information is of no value. I recognise that it is. What I am saying is that it is necessary, but it is not sufficient for proper land and seas management.

Taking Control of the Agenda

We need to be working on recognition of ourselves as people with our own agendas, our own knowledge, our own definitions and our own ways of working and doing things. We need to have recognition between ourselves as First Australians. We need to recognise that we may have unity of purpose, but we have different and equal way of getting there.

We need to have this recognition from non-indigenous peoples too. We started social justice and reconciliation. We are asking non-indigenous people to work with us. Reconciliation means changing your ideas, your views and your understandings, and accepting that there are differences. It doesn't mean agreeing on everything. It means accepting and changing. For European Australians it means moving aside to let in our agendas about "country". It means accepting words that break into the science view and bring our cultural world into the discussions. Your knowledge is important but as greenies and scientists you need to recognise that is not the only knowledge and world view that is important. My elders have knowledge that rivals yours and they have every right to have this respected and recognised.

For us as First Australians, we have to start demanding roles at all levels, not just at the local level of control. We still want our rangers and guides to be working at the local level, that's important. But it's also important to be up there in setting the agendas, making policy and directing actions and research.

We also need to demand social justice in our education and training so that we can be skilled and able to take on these roles. We need universities do what the Vocational Education and Training sector is doing about "country" in their national curriculum. The Vocational Education and Training national curriculum is about our knowledge, our views of caring for country and conservation. It's also breaking ground about recognising that our elders have important roles in educating about country. It's about ownership and learning our way. We have started to set our agenda here.

To the universities I say - we need you to stop developing and teaching courses without us. We want you to develop and teach with us. We need courses that focus on SSD as well as ESD and science. We need courses that focus on Social Justice, Culture: Spirituality and Country. They need to involve our people - our processes for conservation as legitimate. We are talking about conservation as a principle and a guide, not as an end. We want reconciliation of our different views about our country.

Then, and only then, will there be a real Black Green Agenda - not the continuation of Cultural Imperialism.

Country in Aboriginal English is not only a common noun, it is a proper noun. People... speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, feel sorry for country, and look for country.... Country knows, hears, smells, takes notice, take care, is sorry or happy ... Because of this richness, country is home, and peace; nourishment for body; mind and spirit; heart's ease.

Quoted by Ken Taylor, in 'An Aboriginal Australian [sic] Felix: country, landscape and belonging'. Heritage in National Trust of Australia (ACT), Summer 1998. P 18.

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