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Aboriginal Participation

LEB 2009 Aboriginal Forum, Birdsville. Photo: J Schmiechen

For tens of thousands of years the Basin has supported Aboriginal settlement and use, reflected today in the diversity of Aboriginal cultures and the many areas of high cultural significance. The life patterns and resource economics of early Aboriginal inhabitants of the Lake Eyre Basin (LEB) were largely determined by the boom and bust cycles of the landscape. Food production associated with the rain events and the refuge offered by widely scattered springs and waterholes during the dry periods remain an integral part of Aboriginal culture and life in their traditional country.

Today, a significant percentage of the 60,000 people living within the LEB are Aboriginal. In the Northern Territory and South Australian parts of the Basin, Aboriginal people make up 40 - 90% of the total resident population.

The Lake Eyre Basin Agreement requires the appropriate representation of Aboriginal interests in the development and implementation of policies and strategies for the Basin. Since the LEB Agreement was signed in 2000, the LEB Ministerial Forum has funded and implemented a number of Aboriginal communication, consultation and participation initiatives in the Basin to achieve this purpose.

At its third meeting in June 2004, the LEB Ministerial Forum endorsed the following six guiding principles for Indigenous engagement in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement area:

Three main principles:

  1. Sustained effort - our Indigenous engagement should not be a fixed-term project, but a commitment to a long-term program.
  2. Face-to-face contact with Indigenous people is essential - this will require regular consultation and/or regular gatherings.
  3. Coordination with other groups - the work done to engage Indigenous people in the Lake Eyre Basin Agreement must assist and complement the similar efforts of other groups in the Basin, not duplicate or hinder their work.
Indigenous Rangers working with LEBRA Scientists.
Photo: D McNeil.

Three secondary principles:

  1. Local protocols - Indigenous communication protocols vary across the Basin, we need to be sensitive to these differences and conform with local protocols, particularly in regard to who represents or speaks for what areas.
  2. Mutual cultural learning - including cultural awareness for non-Aboriginal participants in the Lake Eyre Basin process, and capacity building for Aboriginal people to understand and influence government programs.
  3. Provide regular feedback - regular communication with Indigenous groups and communities should keep them informed of how their concerns are being acted upon.

Aboriginal people are participating in the LEB Agreement in numerous ways, including:

  • representation on the Lake Eyre Basin Community Advisory Committee - six of the seventeen members represent Indigenous interests across NT, SA and Qld;
  • attendance at Lake Eyre Basin Aboriginal Forums, most recently in Tibooburra in 2011 and prior to that in 2009 (Birdsville), 2006 (Mount Serle) and 2004 (Hamilton Downs);
  • through involvement in major communications efforts like the LEB Aboriginal Map and Booklet project; and
  • Traditional Owners and Indigenous Rangers accompanying and assisting scientists on the Lake Eyre Basin Rivers Assessment Program.