Knowledge without rights is extraction

11 December 2019

ECO is pleased to share our platform with the Indigenous Peoples Caucus to amplify their unique and individual voices.

Bushfires have been raging across the illegally occupied lands of Australia for the past few weeks, wiping out homes, displacing communities and threatening wildlife populations to the point of extinction. Lidia Thorpe, Gunnai, Gunditjmara, Djab Wurrung Woman reflects on the way that disregard for indigenous rights and knowledge has resulted in what is now an uncontrollable situation. She says, “the logging of old growth forest in the name of jobs continues to strip the earth of moisture and throw the ecosystem out of balance.” This has contributed to what has been one of the driest summers to date. 

The traditional practice of burning, a form of fire management that has been used successfully for thousands of years by her people, has been ignored and misused. She says “the way the Department of the Environment go about their business is not in line with our traditional ways of protecting and preserving country.” As residents throughout Australia are subject to the devastation of these fires, environmental groups are finally coming to the realisation that indigenous knowledge and practices are a vital part of ongoing climate solutions.

These fires however are just the tipping point of what has been centuries of colonial exploitation of resources and people. Some examples include the ADANI Coalmine (a massive extractive project bordering the Great Barrier Reef), nationwide hydraulic fracking, and the continued threat of highway construction in places which would uproot 800 year old Djab Wurrung birthing trees. All of these examples are connected and exemplify the way in which the Australian state governments have continued to trample over indigenous rights as suits their economic and political agenda. 

As recognition of the importance of indigenous knowledge grows, there must be an equivalent push to advocate for and protect indigenous rights. This includes rights to sovereignty over lands, and the rights to enforce practices of stewardship in line with indigenous customs. You can’t have indigenous knowledge while the community that holds that knowledge continues to suffer €“ taking knowledge without giving or supporting rights is extraction. 

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