James Cook University researchers have found caring for Country improves the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as well as helping the environment.
JCU’s Dr Diane Jarvis was part of a study funded by the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program. Researchers interviewed 190 Indigenous Australians who were involved with Indigenous land and sea management programs (ILSMPs) that include Commonwealth, state, territory and NGO funded Indigenous ranger programs and Indigenous Protected Areas.
“We took a scientific approach to the conversations, asking questions about the way these programs improved 26 different aspects of life so we could see what was important to people and what had changed,” said Dr Jarvis.
Indigenous people told the researchers that ILSMPs played a big role in improving their wellbeing, by positively changing factors most important to them.
“We found that land management for Indigenous people is much more than ecological or environmental management. The ILSMPs are perceived to cause a wide range of cultural and social benefits,” she said.
Dr Jarvis said it was long-accepted by social scientists that non-Western cultures’ ideas of human wellbeing tend to be focused on the people–environment relationship and are closely linked to the health and vitality of natural resources.
“Land, or Country to Australian Aboriginal people is not seen as something separate from the self, but forms one aspect of the self and the identity of the individual and the group. Indigenous people perceive Country as being alive and in this sense, capable of thought and reflection,” she said.
Dr Jarvis said the Federal Government has recognised the ecological and cultural benefits of Indigenous land management and has encouraged it through a range of funding programs and by providing $700 million for the Indigenous Ranger Program until 2028.
“These programs have aimed to advance biodiversity conservation and support natural resource and heritage protection as well as create sustainable employment and economic opportunities for Indigenous people,” she said.
Dr Jarvis said in 2018, there were more than 800 Indigenous rangers employed across 118 groups under the Australian Government’s Indigenous Ranger Program.
“Although ILSMPs were initially designed to support improved conservation and environmental management, over time they have been more frequently reported as being able to improve the wellbeing of Indigenous people,” she said.