This week we acknowledge World Environment Day and World Oceans Day. Both of these events focus on raising awareness and encouraging action to support a healthy planet. Modern society does not treat the environment well and the impact is starting to be seen. We are losing species; the land is struggling; our oceans are plastic wastelands; and climate change is out of control. We must start taking steps to look after our land.
Aboriginal people have inhabited Australia for over 60,000 years, living off the land and managing resources to ensure that they were sustained for future use. That Aboriginal culture survived for so long before invasion is a testament to the sustainable lifestyle once enjoyed. Today, we can learn a lot from the practices Aboriginal people employed before invasion.
Traditional and cultural practices dictated how natural resources were used. Strategies such as fire-stick burning were used to regenerate the vegetation, encouraging re-growth and attracting animals and insects to the area. Animals were used in their entirety – the meat was a food source, the fur and skin became clothing and bones and teeth were used to make tools. Nothing was wasted. Food sources were selected based on availability and hunters and gatherers were careful to ensure that enough was left so that stocks replenished. Mobs moved strategically throughout their country to give land time to recover from use. Totems played a part in sustainability with individuals not eating their totems. In this way totems were protected from over consumption while they in turn provided spiritual guidance to the people.
While these techniques can inspire us to look after this amazing world better, I think we can learn the most from the relationship that Aboriginal people have with the land. It is this relationship that is at the core of the sustainable approach that Aboriginal people so naturally adopt to look after their environment.
Aboriginal people do not view land as an asset, something to be owned. Land is part of us and we a part of it. The land and its resources do not only physically nourish us, they are also central to our spirituality. Our Dreaming tells our creation stories as well as the lore that should be observed to keep our land and people safe and healthy. Our totems guide us spiritually. Being on country heals our souls and helps to bring us back to center.
Long-term dispossession and displacement has meant that many Aboriginal people have lost some of this natural environmental knowledge but the spiritual connection remains and Aboriginal approaches to land management and land care can continue to contribute to a healthier, sustainable environment for all Australians. Wider Australia is starting to pay attention and incorporate this knowledge for the better of our world.
This week as you reach for your reusable shopping bag and decline the plastic straw, take a minute to think about connection to land and why it is so important that we look after it.
Wingaru Education believes that all children should have access to quality education about Aboriginal people and culture.