Indigenous ranger Albert Wiggan has been named Australian Geographic Society's Conservationist of the Year for in recognition of his work to protect WA's Kimberly region
The 38-year-old Bardi-Kija-Nyul Nyul man is well-known for his role in the Save the Kimberley campaign.
He fought to protect James Price Point from becoming the world’s largest LNG gas export terminal by lobbying the Supreme Court and fronting a blockade in 2013.
He told NITV News he was “excited and overwhelmed” to receive the award.
“I feel very proud in the fact that all of the work that I’m passionate about in promoting Indigenous rangers and providing Indigenous knowledge on how to look after country is recognised at that level, and I’m really proud of that,” Mr Wiggan said.
Mr Wiggan is an environmental consultant with the Nyul Nyul rangers, deputy chair of the Kimberley Salt Water Science Project, Indigenous chair for Bilbies Australia’s national recovery team, and is on the board of the Kimberley Land Council.
He said the people in the Kimberley will need to continue their fight to protect the land from long-term future developments due to it’s “uniquely underdeveloped and untouched" nature.
“Extinction rates are very low in the Kimberley region, and that’s due to that fact that there hasn’t been this massive impact from large populations, and development and industry,” Mr Wiggan said.
“On the flip side there’s a lot of resources still available, mineral resources in particular that are yet to be exploited, those resources are becoming very attractive to multinational agendas,” he said.
The Kimberley region is currently facing two environmental issues: Fitzroy River water issues and the threat of fracking.
Mr Wiggan said First Nations people hold the key for environmental sustainability and believe it's time for Indigenous knowledge to be recognised.
“While there are others who are looking at it [land] purely based on its economics and its supply for countries from around the world, we [Indigenous people] see country from a different perspective. We see it from a spiritual view, from a geological view, from a proper foundation perspective, ” he said.
“I feel like we have a responsibility to make sure that people truly genuinely understand what’s at cost here.”
As one of the frontline campaigners who used people power to prevent development at James Price Point, Mr Wiggan said he supports the protesters who have been recently campaigning for climate change action.
“I have children and I’m gravely concerned because I’m just as confused or unsure about the future because of the way that capitalism is affecting the planet,” Mr Wiggan said.
“So, when I see young people protesting on the streets to create more awareness and promote some sort of food for thought back on these elected leaders or these so-called leaders in our communities for them to consider at least their perspective and their concern, I take my hat off to all these young people," he said.
Previous recipients of the award include Anna Rose who co-founded the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and spearheaded Earth Hour in Australia from a single event to a year-round social movement; Tim Jarvis for his 25Zero project which highlighted the retreat of glaciers on the world’s 25 equatorial mountains; and TV host Tim Faulkner who led an initiative to reverse the extinction rate of small mammals.