The Guardian • Issue #1969


Heal country! – Protecting Indigenous land and culture

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1969

Last week was NAIDOC week, a week held across Australia every July, which celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ history, culture, and achievements. Every year there is a theme, and this year the theme was “Heal Country!”. Heal Country!, according to NAIDOC, is a call “for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction. Country that is more than a place and inherent to our identity.”

Given the Morrison government’s lack of commitment to divesting from fossil fuels, which has left Australia behind globally, the theme could not be more appropriate.

Earlier this year, over 100 traditional owners and scientists from around the country met in March to build a national First Nations voice on climate change. The event, the National First Peoples Gathering on Climate Change, was convened by CSIRO, where insights about climate change were shared in an attempt to “build a national First Nations voice on climate change” (Guardian UK).

The co-chair, Bianca McNeair, a Malgana woman from Gatharagudu (Shark Bay) in Western Australia, said on the importance of the event that “changing climate affects our cultural practices, it’s changing our seasonal calendars […]. All of those things are facing all our mob across Australia.”

NAIDOC week is continuing that focus. However, while some of these climate disasters occur indirectly by human activity (such as the 2019 bushfires), plenty of them are not. One of the most egregious examples in recent history was last year’s destruction of the Juukan Gorge cave in WA by Rio Tinto. The cave was a sacred site for Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples and was evidence of continuous human occupation for over 46,000 years – a span that includes the last Ice Age.

Thus, for Indigenous peoples preserving the land is more than an environmental issue; it’s a cultural issue too.

One example McNeair highlighted earlier this year was how “the birds’ movements across country have changed, so that’s changing songlines that [Indigenous people have] been singing for thousands and thousands of years, and how that’s impacting them as a community and culture.”

Acknowledging Indigenous peoples’ connection to Country, Australia Post launched during NAIDOC week new packaging for parcels where traditional place names could be written.

Speaking on the importance of recognising Indigenous place names Gomeroi woman Rachael McPhail, who has been petitioning Australia Post for the change, stated that “for every town, for every place in this country, we have an original name, and it’s important to use them as a celebration and to recognise the history and the connection of First People to country […].”

The struggle for not only recognition but also meaningful participation has long been a fight for Indigenous peoples. This fight must continue beyond NAIDOC week because the destruction of this land will not only wipe out the culture and history of First Nations people but also destroy the livability of this land for non-Indigenous people as well.

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