Australian Indigenous rangers join UN network

Australia says programs involving Indigenous land and sea managers are to become an official part of a network managed by the United Nations.

Australia says programs involving Indigenous land and sea managers are to become an official part of a network managed by the United Nations.


The federal government has announced the move at the network's inaugural conference in Darwin (26-31 May).


The World Indigenous Network was launched by Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the U-N Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil last year.


But the government has now decided the U-N is in a better position than Australia to manage the network and expand it around the globe.


Michael Kenny has the details.


This week's World Indigenous Network conference has brought together 1200 delegates from 55 countries to share their experiences on how Indigenous communities can best promote responsible land and sea management practices.


After playing a key role in launching the network last year, Australia has announced its decision to hand the management of the network over to the Equator Initiative which falls under the United Nations Development Program.


The Equator Initiative was set up in 2002 and is focused specifically on promoting Indigenous community programs in the environmental conservation area.


The Manager of the Equator Initiative Eileen De Ravin says she sees a lot of potential to expand the reach of the World Indigenous Network.


"It gives us the opportunity to work together with the government of Australia to take it forward to the next level that we've been wanting to and we're doing this really in response to requests from people working on the ground, from local and Indigenous communities, land and sea managers to exchange with each other and to learn from each other and working in a larger partnership is the way to accomplish this."


Ms De Ravin says the Equator Initiative rewards programs which promote sustainable development through a series of awards which are given out every two years.


The 25 recipients of the Equator Prize in 2012 each received five-thousand dollars for their efforts.


The Equator Initiative also supports research programs and community forums where Indigenous groups can meet and exchange ideas on sustainable living.


A key speaker at this week's forum in Darwin believes the World Indigenous Network can only be truly effective in the long term if it is completely owned and run by Indigenous peoples.


The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, says he believes the forum provides a great platform to promote traditional approaches to land and sea management.


He says these approaches could prove to be beneficial for many non-Indigenous communities as well.


"My hope is that the World Indigenous Network can eventually contribute to concrete steps towards securing the rights of Indigenous peoples over lands, territories in a way that's generally beneficial to all concerned- to all of society. I think that what I understand to be a key concept behind the World Indigenous Network is that Indigenous peoples have something to contribute to the world with their knowledge about the land, the sea and the resources."


During the Darwin forum, Indigenous rangers have spoken at length about what they have learned through a series of joint exchange programs.


African rangers have travelled to Kakadu National Park to learn about the work of Indigenous Australian rangers and the success of Indigenous-owned tourism businesses.


And Torres Strait Islander rangers have showed fellow rangers from the Solomon Islands how to trap feral pigs using coconut as bait.


Rangers from Mexico and Western Australia's Kimberley region, who both have the right as traditional owners to eat sea turtles, have shared their conservation methods at the forum.


One of the Mexican rangers Alberto Saldamando says he believes both sides gained a lot from the discussions.


"One of the things that Australian Traditional Owners found stunning about our success there was that our nation stopped eating the sea turtle- not because of a conservation concept or a western conservation push. It was more like an act of gratitude offer to the species because they helped us to survive for thousands and thousands of years and now it was time for us to pay back."


A Kimberley ranger, Peter Murray, says he discussed his approach to tackling climate change at length with his Mexican counterparts.


Mr Murray says this has involved talks with Indigenous elders who have a lot of valuable information on the land and sea levels, passed on over thousands of years.


"Climate change- that's another big word- our Traditional Owners didn't know about climate change and we're teaching our Traditional Owners about what it really means and after a few workshops- it's really paid off. We've gained a lot of useful information and traditional knowledge on where the climate has been changing and what the indicators are out there. So it's giving the rangers a better view on planning for future management."


The Darwin forum ends on Friday.

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