Category Archives: ecology

Aborigines and Conservationism. Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned

The following article is written by Tyson Yunkaporta.  (his profile here)

 In it he covers issues that I have raised in previous articles such as “Terra Nullius and Ecology”  and “The Environment movement and Aboriginal Australia”.
I have included this article partly because it backs up controversial things that I have said in my own articles, but also because it is an Aboriginal perspective which I hope will be taken more seriously than my own non-indigenous reflections on the relationship between Aboriginal and non Aboriginal notions of the natural environment.

More articles by Tyson Yunkaporta – here 

Aborigines and Conservationism
Land Rights and Green Activism Not Necessarily Aligned
By Tyson Yunkaporta

Aborigines and Greens both have a strong environmental focus in activism. But are conservationists in reality serving a colonial agenda when it comes to land rights?
Often conservationists will integrate Indigenous groups and issues into their causes. However, while well intended, this often carries racist agendas that actually support the colonial paradigm. This undercurrent becomes viciously clear in situations like the Makah whale hunting controversy in Washington, which saw greens chanting anti-Indian slogans alongside neo-Nazis, and sporting bumper stickers like, “Save a whale – kill a Makah!”

The Wilderness Myth
The most damaging aspect of conservationist ideology is the wilderness myth, which is basically a green version of Terra Nullius. The concept of “untouched” or “unspoiled” Edens that need to be protected from people always seems to leave Native Title out of the picture. The romantic natural paradise ideal effectively removes Aboriginal people from the landscape. Our land management techniques are silenced at best, or at worst criticised as being primitive and unscientific. In green circles, you will often hear Aboriginal land management cited as a reason for species extinction. Traditional practices are only valid when they are limited to cultural exotica, and when they serve to categorise us as part of the fauna. Hunting is problematic in green politics.

Conservation As Colonisation
When “wilderness” conservation became law, this resulted in countless Aboriginal people being jailed for hunting in “protected” areas on their traditional lands. Many of these people died (and are still dying) in prison. “No camping” rules have resulted in further dispossession, as traditional owners have found themselves driven off the land by a new form of pastoralism called wilderness preservation. And when Indigenous groups or individuals have scraped together enough money to buy back their own land, the government has been able to block the purchase by declaring the areas National Parks. Thus conservationism has become yet another weapon against Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal Portrayal In Green Texts and Research
Reductionism is also a problem in green circles. Because of the monocultural use of western scientific or psuedo-scientific inquiry in conservation, many well-meaning activists fail to develop the holistic knowledge base necessary for understanding traditional land management. This prevents them from seeing the importance of an Indigenous hand in the maintenance of ecosystems. As a result traditional owners are framed as relics of the past. This can be seen in conservationist texts, which generally use the past tense when describing Indigenous knowledge or practices.

Often Indigenous “wisdom” will be used to give a bit of weight and poignancy to green texts. Other times land knowledge is stripped from Indigenous communities by green messiahs and charming researchers who come to save the land and the people (often with a patent in the back pocket for local plant knowledge). If we’re lucky, we get to be their assistants, or consultants.

Apologies to the many conservationists out there who are the exception to this rule.

This article is copyright. Thanx to Tyson  for permission to publish it.



Filed under Aboriginal, australia, ecology, philosophy, politics, reconciliation

The Greens and indigenous issues in the 2007 election

The following is a couple of comments I posted (amongst others) on Greensblog in response to what has been the Greens only indigenous policy platform for this election, their indigenous health policy. See – “Australia’s Duty of Care”.  

The policy was released on the same day as the A.L.P.’s official campaign launch and failed to get coverage in the media.

I have criticised the Greens before for neglecting indigenous issues in their campaigns, this was my open letter to the Greens following the 2006 Qld. state election – here and now I have criticised them again.

Here are the comments –  


I just got a Greens leaflet in my letterbox at home in Brisbane. It is titled “Greens commitments to peace, justice and human rights”.

Absolutely nothing about Aboriginal Australia.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the Palm Island death in custody.

The leaflet says the Greens “will oppose the death penalty, torture and mistreatment” What about opposing these things in Australia?

It says “The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq is a disaster built on a lie” What about the illegal invasion and occupation of Australia?

This Terra Nullius consciousness allows the Greens to whinge about human rights abuses overseas while ignoring the reality before their white noses here in Australia.


For those people who do not know me, I am not an Aboriginal person, my grandfathers country is Tipperary, Ireland.

I am not taking cheap shots at the Greens in support of some other party. I have indeed endorsed Andrew Bartlett in Queensland on my blog because he has done the hard yards in Aboriginal affairs, especially stolen wages and he has made indigenous affairs his prime policy for his election platform.

However much of my above critique of the health policy can be (and has been) equally aimed at the Democrats policy. Bartlett has a much more comprehensive policy platform than the Greens but it is all still just tinkering around the edges of something that needs a radical change of direction.

The Greens have played a brilliant role on climate change. They have provided real leadership in the nation. The Greens started on this issue over 10 years ago when it was a marginalised fruitloop idea and not taken seriously. But the Greens did not back off, they pushed and pushed and pushed. They had education campaigns – active outreach to the community. They consistently included carbon reduction as a key policy platform. Today the Greens can not only say “we told you so!” but have credibility to demand the next obvious step, enforcible reduction targets and the rejection of coal and nuclear, even though it is still unpopular and requires radical social change.

Only the Greens can play such a role on indigenous issues.

Even if the Democrats were to survive this election they couldn’t do it. They can only tinker with the status-quo as they did on the original native title legislation which, even in its original form, was a mechanism for extinguishing, not enforcing Aboriginal rights and interests.

The ALP must entrench the interests of both international capital and a racist and conservative population, they cannot head in the right direction.

ANTAR play an important education role – Their Close the Gap campaign has informed Green, Democrat and Labour health policy this election.

However the real task is self determination – for Aboriginal Australia to be calling the shots. Not just being consulted or giving input into policy frameworks but to be actively managing land, economy, public services and all aspects of Aboriginal life. This will require a change in land law, public service design and delivery and a whole range of social structural re-engineering.

The Greens need a policy for this re-engineering.

A Treaty, self determination, land rights, alternatives to prison, compensation, etc. These are all things that will not flow naturally out of the present indigenous debate. They will require leadership, a leadership that must be willing to, at first, adopt a radical, marginalised, controversial policy framework that is holistic, intellegent and in essence true.
Then push and push and push.

Just like what the Greens did on climate change.

If the Greens do not take this leadership on indigenous issues in parliament and in community education, like they did on climate change, where will this leadership come from?

The Aboriginal leadership – the family and tribal elders, the community councils, the intelectuals and statespeople are all in place ready to go right now but they have no resources to do anything. Where is the point of engagement with white Australia that can bring about the necessary changes?

If not the Greens, who? If not now, when?

It is simply a matter of priorities.

Too late now, but maybe a indigenous issues could be included amongst the core platform at the next federal election? I am bitterly dissapointed that it was not this time, again.


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Terra Nullius and Ecology

I have been promising for a while to write something about colonial perspectives and the environment movement. However I got caught up in critiques of socialism and the APEC demonstrations and didn’t get around to it. Then I realised that I have never put the following article on Paradigm Oz. It is an old one that has been published elsewhere but it is relevent to many of my recent posts here.   So here it is…..

Terra Nullius and Ecology


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Censorship by the Wilderness Society, what next?

The above headline was Tony Jones, the anchorperson of ABC’s Lateline program’s comment about the Wilderness Society refusing to allow the media into their concert in Sydney on the weekend.

 The concert was picketed by a group of Cape York Traditional owners headed by Young Australian of the Year, Tania Major.

According to Lateline “The Aborigines say the environmentalists are treating them in a colonial manner by pushing for the World Heritage listing of Cape York without consulting the Indigenous people who call the area home.”

More details here Rift widens between Cape York traditional owners and green movement

I have written before about the colonial perspectives of the environment movement, in particular the Wilderness society. see this link The environment movement and Aboriginal Australia – the debate heats up.

 I apologise for not writing a full article today but I am busy getting ready for tommorows picket.  I shall return to this subject again in the future as I believe this clash, and a proper analysis of it is central to the green movement coming to terms with Australian reality and indigenous notions of country.

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A dog is a man’s (and a woman’s) best friend

 I am expanding further into the bloggoshere and am now writing for “The Dead Roo”

This is something I wrote for the Roo……..

The ABC presently has a news story “Dingoes touted as wildlife’s saviour”

a quote from the article…….

“Dingoes should be reintroduced into large tracts of Australian sheep grazing country to control feral animals that would otherwise threaten native fauna, a wildlife expert says.

Professor Chris Dickman, of the Institute of Wildlife Research at the University of Sydney, also says it may be time to consider pulling down the dingo fence that was built in the 1880s to keep dingoes from livestock in south-east Australia. Continue reading

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The environment movement and Aboriginal Australia – the debate heats up.

I have written a few articles about what I believe is the “Terra Nullius” notions of the environment that are held and perpetuated by many in the “green” movement in Australia.  (links below)  As the Friends of the Earth have shown below, some are tackling the hard issues and searching for an evolution of green policy that acknowledges and works with Aboriginal understandings of land and the environment.

A recent edition of the A.B.C. “Australian Story” entitled “Cry me a river” focused on the objections of Cape York Aboriginal traditional owners to the Beattie governments “Wild  Rivers” legislation.   The Wilderness society has been campaigning for the Wild Rivers legislation since 2000.   Cape York leader Noel Pearson, speaking in opposition to the Wild Rivers regime, raised issues of a conflict of understanding between white urban environmentalists and traditional owners.  He said  ““I’ve long suspected that that was going to be a source of confrontation with us and some sections of the Green movement.   This is a clash that we are going to have to have, you know.” Continue reading


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Bushfire is a very destructive thing, obviously.
As our forests burn around the nation we see on the T.V. images of destruction to homes, farms and of course animal habitat. Many people see, hear, smell and feel the fire as it comes into their neighborhoods. In this time of water shortage, fire is indeed a massive drain on limited resources as tanks and dams are emptied fighting fires.
But not all fire is destructive. It is fire that boils a billy and powers a car. When fire is managed it is useful to us homo-sapiens. Fire demands respect. If given the proper respect it will perform an infinite number of tasks. If fire is disrespected it will engulf the fool in its rage and destroy anything and everything until there it can find no more to destroy, or until the heavens open with a solid enough rain to extinguish the beast’s anger.
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