Millions of hectares of Country in Western Australia’s Goldfields region was returned to the Ngadju and Ngururrpa people as an Indigenous Protected Area on Sunday.
The IPA classification of 4.4 million hectares of The Great Western Woodlands and 2.9 million hectares of the Great Sandy Desert recognises the sacredness of the area to the Ngadju and Ngururrpa people and now creates a traditional owner led framework around the management of the land.
The two sites in WA t form new Indigenous Protected Area agreements with the federal government and fall under the Australian government’s $15 million program to assist Indigenous groups to undertake consultation and planning for the establishment of new IPAs.
Ngururrpa Elder Mickey Bennie told NITV News she was glad that Traditional Owners have been given the opportunity to “properly” care for Country and to safeguard important places located on the land.
“We can take kids out and teach them - us Elders, we’re not getting any younger, so it’s good with this IPA, it helps us pass our knowledge on,” said Mr Bennie.
Ngadju Traditional Owner James Schultz agreed that the implementation of an IPA was a positive step forward and told NITV News that he believed the IPA classification was "fantastic" for the Indigenous community.
"Traditional Owners are the best and most skilled people to manage invasive weeds, bushfire damage, and feral animals and now we have some funding to protect our sacred and special areas," he said.
"In the past, we had no power to even go on Country or do anything that wasn't out of pocket, so this means a lot. It's really very good for our mob."
The Great Western Woodlands area on Ngadju country has been recognised as the largest intact temperate woodland left on earth and is home to 30 percent of Australia’s eucalyptus. The area is also a known sanctuary for a variety of endangered wildlife species.
The Ngadju people were also previously granted determination over 100sq. kilometers of land near Norseman, and have had sustained success with their ranger program since 2014.
Helen Langley, the CEO of the Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation, said the IPA attaches funding and economic opportunity to the recognition of the Traditional Owner's rights to manage the environmental and cultural values of their land.
”In some ways, the Ngadju people have been working towards the recognition of their rights of the land since colonisation, but there have been well over 10 years of planning for this IPA,” said Ms Langley.
Executive Director from ‘Country Needs People’ Patrick O’Leary told NITV News that over the last decade, Indigenous protected areas have become a critical part of how Australia is managing its biodiversity while tackling major threats like unmanaged fire, feral animals, and invasive weed species and enabling traditional owners to be the leaders around cultural heritage management on Country.
“An important part of IPA management is that the central decision making has been led by traditional owners themselves and and funded by government over those areas,” said Mr O’Leary.
Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, told ABC News on Sunday that one of the long-term benefits of implementing IPA’s is the protection of Australia’s native environment.
"Together with the Indigenous Ranger Program, IPAs deliver cultural, social and economic outcomes, including employment, training and capacity building for individuals and organisations and protection of Indigenous cultural heritage," he said.
Ms Langley agreed that the IPA provided a heightened opportunity for community engagement, especially amongst Indigenous youth in the area.
“On a large scale, it means that the Traditional Owners have a seat at the table to negotiate and work with state governments on land management,” said Ms Langley.
Mr O’Leary said that the long-term benefits of IPA included the creation of local job opportunities and the establishment of a platform to create future enterprise opportunities like tourism.
Minister for the Environment Susan Ley agreed when speaking to ABC News, that the Indigenous Protected Area classifications will be an opportunity to integrate traditional knowledge and western science, providing positive long-term positive benefits for Indigenous communities.
The new classification of the sites means there are now more than 70 million hectares of protected land and it is part of of twelve new IPAsto come under the government scheme.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are at the forefront of how we deliver good management of Country around Australia, both for the environment and cultural heritage while ensuring people can be the active leaders of their own culture every day while on Country, which is something Australia should invest more in,” said Mr O’Leary.