Over 45 people, including more than 40 Traditional Owners and Aboriginal land managers of the Pilbara, gathered last month on Ngarluma Country for a forum to share stories and information about the important steps in considering the formation of ranger programs to strengthen caring for country activities.
Coordinated by Rangelands NRM and held at Welcome House in Karratha on 23 March, the forum allowed participants to share their knowledge of the initial steps towards developing their own ranger programs.
Banyjima elder, Maitland Parker said it was important that all Pilbara mobs were united to allow them to share their experiences and knowledge.
“It was obvious from the comments from other Pilbara elders on the day that now is the time for us to strive for better coordination,” Mr Parker said.
“It’s great to see so many young people getting involved in caring for our country, but the elders across all [Pilbara] mobs must show a coordinated leadership,” he said.
Rangelands NRM Deserts and Pilbara Program Manager, Chris Curnow said the forum was well attended and provided a good opportunity to hear from people about their early experiences of setting up ranger programs and in particular, the barriers that they faced in starting the programs and how they addressed them.
The forum heard stories from Ngurrawaana ranger coordinator Mr Kingsley Woodley and Murujuga Land & Sea Unit Manager Sean McNeair.
As an invited guest from outside the Pilbara, Central Desert Native Title Service Program Development Coordinator, Hamish Morgan also spoke about how the Birriliburu and Wiluna ranger teams had gone about sustaining their program on desert country.
Nyiyaparli elder, Brian Tucker and ABC Foundation’s Brad Rowe gave an inspiring presentation on a caring for country vision for the Pilbara.
“Our initial thoughts were to start small and create a neutral space for Pilbara mob to talk. We had some great collaborators who were already deeply involved in Pilbara country matters and we knew there was a lot interest in ranger program development,” Mr Curnow said.
“After the cyclone passed, word got around and the numbers grew to over 40 Traditional Owners who were all keen to hear from their fellow country men and women about the ways forward,” he said.
Gumala ranger coordinator, Shandell Raddock said that the Pilbara Aboriginal Caring for Country forum was opening doors to potential opportunities to share training for fledgling ranger groups.
“We’re just getting organised and it’s great to hear what other Pilbara mobs are doing. Gumala rangers are working with Ngurrawaana rangers on identifying collaborative land management training opportunities,” Mrs Raddock said.
Rangelands NRM engages with Traditional Owners and Aboriginal land managers to identify support for land management projects throughout the rangelands regions of Western Australia. One of the means for undertaking these projects can be through the establishment of ranger teams. But with seed funding thin on the ground, the support for the crucial development phase of forming a sustainable ranger group remains problematic.
Mr Curnow said the need for the forum arose from ongoing requests to assist with the establishment of ranger programs and a desire to ensure that people were aware of the pitfalls that invariably plagued early start ups, that didn’t consider all the components of a sustainable group formation.
“What we sometimes find is that the outcomes-focused initiatives of past government-funded ranger programs did not provide an opportunity for those vital early discussions that bridge the gap between what’s important for traditional owners and the desire to see NRM outcomes on the ground,” he said.
With the shared experiences of those already in this space, Rangelands NRM has developed a ranger incubation framework a step-wise tool to guide aspiring ranger groups through the ‘discovering’ phase required before commencing the more focussed ‘Planning’ and ‘Doing’ phases of a ranger program. A ‘So, you want a Ranger Team’ poster has been developed to assist the process and explains the three phases ‘Discovering’, ‘Planning’ and ‘Doing’.
“The forum also provided the opportunity for Pilbara mob to collectively look at the key lessons from those few existing ranger initiatives and how these lessons might be applied to their own ideas for developing a ranger program,” Mr Curnow.
“We are keen to continue providing information and facilitating further discussions to help groups start planning and see what steps they may have missed,” he said.
Mr Parker, who lives in central Pilbara on Banyjima Country said he hoped this was the first step toward greater collaboration between Pilbara Traditional Owners and the sharing of good processes in caring for country.
“We need to be united so we can be prepared to advise investors of the way we need to care for this country for future generations,” he said.