It must not come as a surprise that indigenous peoples’ connections to Mother Earth often translate into a type of environmental stewardship that is particularly effective. The long tradition of respect for the earth and all her beings is a belief held in many indigenous communities – and it is one that the rest of the world must incorporate into standard practice in order to improve land and water management policies, says new research.
"When Indigenous nations become sovereign partners in environmental management, the power structures and worldviews that underlie decision-making can be productively challenged ... creating new solutions to pressing environmental issues," says lead author of the new paper, Dr. Samantha Muller, who is a researcher at Flinders University.
"Indigenous agency and governance are driving innovations in land management worldwide that provide more equitable solutions and strategic approaches to looking after the lands, waters and all living things, particularly in the face of climate change,” continues Dr. Muller. The study she headed focused on the environmental management practices of Aboriginal Australians, New Zealand, and North America.
Dr. Muller, along with colleagues Professor Daryle Rigney and Associate Professor Steven Hemming, explains that in order to understand the land practices of native peoples, you have to critically consider the histories of colonization that have scarred most of the worlds’ indigenous groups.
"One of the most significant acts of colonialism is to impose an understanding of Country as something separate from humans, with decisions based on science and Western institutions," the authors write. "Indigenous nations worldwide have been asserting their sovereignties which is reshaping practices of environmental management."
Indigenous governance incorporates a long history of knowing the land and water systems where one’s people live and have lived for many generations and making decisions based on that foundational knowledge. Such is clear in the case studies of the Ngarrindjeri Nation in South Australia, the Maori of Aoetaroa/New Zealand, and the Menominee in the US, the three places that the study highlights. However, indigenous sovereignties make the same argument not only in these three places, but around the world!
The authors conclude that the basis of their research is to shine a spotlight on land management practices around the globe in order to get people asking critical questions. They write, “We argue that to decolonize environmental management, it is crucial to understand and challenge the power relations that underlie it—asking who makes decisions and on what worldview those decisions are based…We argue that Indigenous agency, grounded in Indigenous governance and sovereignties, is driving innovation and decolonizing environmental management by making space for new ways of thinking and being “in place”.”