The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) acknowledges the First Nations communities of the Murray-Darling Basin and pays respect to their Elders past and present. We acknowledge First Nations people as the Traditional Custodians of the land, water and sky country across the Basin. We recognise the intrinsic connection of First Nations people to Country, and we value their enduring cultural, social, environmental, spiritual, and economic connection to the rivers, wetlands, and floodplains of the Basin.
We value the ongoing contribution that First Nations people make to the planning and delivery of water for the environment. We acknowledge this contribution is made largely through frameworks and processes that have not been determined, or endorsed, by First Nations people. More can be done to increase First Nations peoples’ participation and empower them to progress towards self-determination within and beyond the environmental watering program.
We embrace the spirit of reconciliation, working towards equity and an equal voice for First Nations people.
How we work together
The CEWH is committed to partnering and working meaningfully with First Nations people in the planning, delivery, and monitoring of water for the environment.
The CEWH’s Approach to partnering with First Nations people focuses on three key areas:
- providing opportunities to empower and support First Nations people to care for Country;
- building partnerships with First Nations people in ways that they determine,
- building the confidence of CEWH staff to engage with First Nations people and cultures.
The Approach was developed based on the CEWH’s experiences working with First Nations people, the feedback and advice the CEWH has received from First Nations organisations and people, and the commitments, objectives, and broader programs of the Australian Government.
The approach is adaptive and will be updated as required to be flexible and reflect the diversity of First Nations people, their identities, cultures, and Country.
Empowering First Nations people to care for Country
Provide opportunities to empower and support First Nations people to care for Country
- Delivering environmental water.
- Investment in projects that protect the environment.
- Supporting participation in partnerships and decision making.
- Monitoring, evaluation and research.
Build partnerships with First Nations people in ways that they determine
Our partnerships will be based on the following principles:
- Provide First Nations people a voice in decisions made about their Country.
- Ask First Nations people how their voice should be represented.
- Listen to truth about the impact of water management on First Nations people, communities and their Country.
- Create opportunities for two-way knowledge sharing.
- Understand how to acknowledge and protect knowledge shared by First Nations people.
Build confidence of our staff to engage with First Nations people and their culture - A toolkit will support staff to learn, increase their knowledge and build confidence.
Examples of initiatives that may be part of a toolkit include:
- Experiences and events.
- Learning on-Country.
- Reflective workshops.
- Learning about: Remuneration, Native title, Indigenous cultural intellectual property.
First Nations participation in Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder Science Program
The current CEWH science program (Flow-Monitoring, Evaluation and Research, Flow-MER), due to finish in June 2024, consists of on-ground Monitoring, Evaluation and Research in partnership with scientists, water managers and communities across the Murray-Darling Basin to understand how fish, birds, vegetation, and river connectivity are responding to Commonwealth environmental water.
Over the past year the CEWH has been designing its future science program (Flow-MER2.0), this has been informed by an independent evaluation, collaborative design and consultation with key partners. A key enhancement to the future program is a greater emphasis on First Nations knowledge and science.
The CEWH is striving to embed First Nations knowledge and science into the future science program to ensure environmental watering is underpinned by the best available knowledge. To support the application of First Nations knowledge, a cultural network has been included in the proposed Program. The Cultural Network will be responsible for ensuring genuine First Nations participation, as determined by First Nations people and will consist of:
- A First Nations Knowledge Broker
- A Basin-scale Cultural Outcomes Lead
- Cultural Advisor or Liaison roles in each of the Flow-MER Areas
The First Nations Knowledge Broker and Basin-scale Cultural Outcomes Theme Lead will be identified during the tender process. Appropriate individuals to occupy the Cultural Advisor and Cultural Liaison roles may be advertised after contracts have been awarded.
First Nations people have contributed to designing the Program to place greater emphasis on First Nations knowledge and science in Flow-MER2.0. This will ensure effective and authentic integration of First Nations knowledge, science, values, and needs throughout the program. The collaborative design occurred through several activities including:
- A CSIRO-led consortium where First Nations scientists participated in the collaborative design
- First Nations representation on the Flow-MER2.0 Independent Advisory Group
- First Nations CEWH staff led the design of the First Nations approach for Flow-MER2.0
Further collaborative design will be undertaken following the contracting of successful providers for Flow-MER2.0, including with First Nations people and groups. The three service categories under this program all have a requirement for dedicated funding for First Nations knowledge and science activities.
The open tender for the procurement of future monitoring, evaluation and research activities has now closed and submissions are being evaluated. Contracting for the new program will likely take place from June2023.
Future CEWH Science Program updates can be viewed at: Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder’s future Science Program
How to get involved with us
If you would like to reach out and learn more, please contact a Local Engagement Officer near you.
The stories and case studies below highlight the CEWH’s meaningful partnerships with First Nations people and their involvement in water planning, delivery and monitoring within the Murray-Darling Basin.
First Nations input to planning
The CEWO is committed to working with First Nations across the Basin in how we plan, deliver and monitor water for the environment. In 2021–22, we will continue to build relationships with First Nations’ organisations and communities, to learn from and identify ways to support cultural values alongside environmental outcomes.
Case study: Replenishing Dharriwaa
Outstanding environmental, cultural and social outcomes have all combined to raise the spirits of collaborative partners at the Ramsar site of Narran Lakes following water for the environment flows in 2020 and 2021.
Case study: Young Veins for future thriving waterways
Sharing stories of fishing trips, learning about Aboriginal tool-making, visiting cultural artifacts,walking in wetlands and seeing waterbugs and fish in various parts of the northern Murray-Darling Basin were just some of the inspirational activities NSW high school students enjoyed in 2020–21.
Case study: Environmental Watering Forum
On Latji Latji Country in April 2021, First Nations People from along the length of the Murray gathered in Mildura, to discuss ways to support cultural values alongside environmental outcomes in environmental water delivery.
Case study: Horseshoe Lagoon
Taungurung Land and Water Council (TLaWC) is leading the way at Horseshoe Lagoon demonstrating how cultural values, environmental objectives and on-Country knowledge sharing are critical to long term water management, Healing Country and meaningful collaboration.
Protecting Country and Culture with Nari Nari Tribal Council
Since 2016 the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, the Nari Nari Tribal Council and the NSW Department of Industry, Planning and Environment have worked together to deliver Commonwealth Environmental Water to Toogimbie IPA.
Case study: CEWO/NRA Partnership – Environmental flows for Teringie Wetlands
In 2019, the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority delivered Commonwealth environmental water to Teringie wetlands, alongside Lake Alexandrina.
Water is life – the Northern Fish Flow
From April–July 2019, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office with the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, released water for the environment down the Barwon-Darling. The flow connected the rivers and helped native fish including guduu (Murray cod), and gaygay (freshwater catfish) survive .
Strengthening connections with water for the environment
In 2019 - 20, First Nations peoples worked with the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office (CEWO) to incorporate their values and knowledge in planning for water for the environment over the next year.
Working together for Dharriwaa
For over seven years, the Narran Lakes and surrounding river system remained dry. The Lakes, known as Dharriwaa by the Yuwaalaraay/Euahlayi people, is a significant meeting place for Aboriginal peoples and a source of food and medicine. The origin story of Dharriwaa highlights its immense cultural significance and demonstrates the importance of the area, especially for waterbirds.
Learning with locals in monitoring and research: Turtle monitoring with Yarkuwa Indigenous knowledge Centre, NSW
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office’s on-ground science program, called Flow-MER, brings together scientists from some of Australia’s leading universities and research institutions. These scientists monitor, evaluate and study how plants and animals respond to water for the environment.