Social implications of bridging the gap through 'caring for country' in remote Indigenous communities of the Northern Territory, Australia

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    Abstract

    'Caring for country' is a term used to describe the complex spiritual affiliation that encompasses the rights and responsibilities that Aboriginal Australians have with their land. It includes their custodial responsibilities for keeping the land healthy and its species abundant. This ontology and associated practice of 'caring for country' continues across large sections of the Northern Territory of Australia through customary practice and through the Indigenous Ranger Program. This Program has been described as a 'two toolbox approach', which combines traditional ecological knowledge with more conventional land management practice, to manage landscapes for their natural and cultural values. Since 2007 there have been several policy initiatives which have changed the dynamics in Aboriginal communities which in turn has affected the structure of the Indigenous Ranger Program. In response to the dire social conditions facing Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Government initiated the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which was a 'top down' approach with very little community engagement. At around the same time there was a shift in the way Indigenous Rangers jobs were funded. The unintended impact of this was a reduction in the number of Aboriginal people connected to the Ranger Program and potentially less input from culturally appropriate decision makers for land management. Another influencing policy change involved a shift in Commonwealth funding for land management from Natural Heritage Trust to Caring For Our Country funding. This new funding is more targeted and has changed the nature of the Ranger Program to being less 'program based' and more 'outcome based' by packaging many land management activities as 'Fee for Service' contracts. The transformation is taking place in a prescriptive manner. In this paper we advocate a more community-based approach which allows for greater community involvement in planning, decision making and governance.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)63-73
    Number of pages11
    JournalRangeland Journal
    Volume34
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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