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Report No. 45

Developing the Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural and Natural Resource Management Plan

Workshop Proceedings
Libby Larsen and Sandra Pannell
ISBN 0 86443 761 7

Extract from Part One

The Traditional Owners of the Wet Tropics Natural Resource Management region have adopted a unique approach to ensure that their interests and aspirations are considered in the new, Australia-wide Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) funded regional arrangements for integrated natural resource management (NRM). Dissatisfied with the engagement process associated with the development of the Wet Tropics Regional NRM Plan, Traditional Owners made a collective decision in 2002 to develop their own Wet Tropics Cultural and Natural Resource Management Plan (Aboriginal Plan). In doing so, they envisioned that the Aboriginal Plan would inform the content and direction of the Wet Tropics Regional NRM Plan and, in itself, constitute a groundbreaking vision for caring for country and culture in a holistic sense.

The Aboriginal Plan took over three years to develop, commencing with the first Traditional Owner regional workshop held in March 2002 to discuss Indigenous involvement in NHT 2. Indigenous groups were largely excluded from the planning process in the first phase of the NHT program (1997-2001), and consequently only a handful of Aboriginal communities Australia-wide received funding support for NRM projects. Determined to rectify this state of Indigenous marginalisation in what is arguably a multi-billion dollar, nation-wide experiment in environmental management and social change, Traditional Owners, government and non-government organisations in the Wet Tropics region attended numerous workshops, meetings and presentations to develop an Aboriginal Plan.

It has not been an easy task to develop this plan, and ensure acknowledgement of Indigenous perspectives and values in the broader Wet Tropics NRM planning process. Although there has been support from a number of individuals working within government departments (both State and Commonwealth) and FNQ NRM Ltd, the reality is that the framework for NHT 2 and the guidelines for the development of NRM plans do not adequately embrace and support Indigenous aspirations for caring for country. Thus, one of the major challenges encountered in developing the Aboriginal Plan was to broaden the focus and objectives of NHT at a regional, State and Commonwealth level. The promotion of a more holistic and integrated view of NRM is crucial if Indigenous aspirations are to be recognised in regional planning processes. Critical to this reformulation of current NRM models is the adoption of a whole-of-government approach to the articulation of NHT and the delivery of sustainable NRM outcomes. In this respect, in the process of developing the Aboriginal Plan, strategic partnership arrangements were developed between Traditional Owners, the Board of FNQ NRM Ltd, the Regional Group Collective, Commonwealth and State Government NRM teams and the Joint Steering Committee.

As the first plan of its kind to specifically address the many challenges of maintaining distinct and diverse cultures in a multi-tenured and rapidly changing landscape, it is important that the process of developing the Aboriginal Plan is documented to ensure that other NRM regions and Indigenous groups can benefit from the lessons learned within the Wet Tropics NRM region. This is not to say that what has occurred in the Wet Tropics should be used as a 'one-size-fits all' model for Indigenous engagement in other NRM regions. Rather, some of the issues and ways in which the Wet Tropics Aboriginal Plan Project Team (WTAPPT) attempted to shape the NHT framework and planning process to better reflect Indigenous people's values and priorities for natural and cultural resource management may be used as an inspiration and guide for other Indigenous groups in Australia. In addition to documenting the process leading to the launch of the Aboriginal Plan at Innisfail on 29 April 2005, this document also contains the proceedings of Aboriginal Plan development workshops convened between March 2002 and December 2004. The content of these proceedings have been retained not just for the 'historical record', but also to illustrate the complexity and multi-processual nature of the Plan's development. While a recent review of the NHT program identified the Aboriginal Plan as a "case study of exemplary consultation with Indigenous communities", suggesting to the general public a process of clear and mutual understanding, the reality of the Plan's evolution is quite different. As evident in the proceedings in part two of this report, issues of cross-cultural interpretation, translation, and comprehension were encountered on a daily basis. It is incorrect to see these issues simply as one of the effects of imposing western ideas about planning and management upon Aboriginal peoples and landscapes. The NHT process brings together a number of different cultural systems, including Indigenous, Anglo-Australian, scientific and bureaucratic orders of meaning and value. In this culturally diverse context, misunderstanding and mis-recognition on the part of those involved were, at times, the unintended outcomes. As demonstrated in the proceedings, the Aboriginal Plan owes its 'success' to those people willing to recognise and reconcile differences in ideas, identities and ideals in this social experiment in multi-cultural, multi-sectoral planning.

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Download Part Two Proceedings of Aboriginal Plan Workshops and Meetings



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