First Nations of the Southern Connected Basin
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.
The 2-day forum (the Forum) was organised with the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations, The Living Murray’s Indigenous Partnership Program, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Office, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and state environmental water managers. It brought together over 40 Traditional Owners from 12 Nations, from many parts of the southern Murray-Darling Basin to share information about the health of Country and discuss preferred outcomes from the management of water for the environment.
Over the course of the two days everyone present engaged in many challenging discussions. First Nations participants expressed their fatigue and frustration after years of providing advice to governments that goes unheeded.
During a field trip to Merbein Lagoon, with Latji Latji Nation and First People’s of the MillewaMallee representatives, participants emphasized the importance of not just providing water to a site, but providing the water ‘the right way’. That is, using natural flow pathways and not just pumping water to sites using the easiest or cheapest pathways. As Tati Tati and Latji Latji Elder Brendan Kennedy explained, “Its wrong water. It’s like putting water up the rear end rather than going in through the mouth. Yes its adding water but it’s not done right.
The Forum included Women’s and Men’s sessions to allow for open discussions on culturally sensitive topics. Empowered through this process, the women’s group recorded a profound and potent statement that shares how the women connect to water and tells the importance of healthy waterways on their cultural business, obligations and aspirations.
Ngaywang Elder Aunty Christine Abdulla said: “It’s Time! For Our Voices to be heard, and, acted upon!!
For all First Peoples of their respective language groups and Nations within the Southern Basin to have their Traditional Knowledges respected, and, included in the decision making of Government decisions surrounding water allocations.
I’m hoping our Women’s’ Business Statement will help us gain a voice, so we are heard and respected. For recognition of all the women before us, their hard work and tirelessly sharing our Traditional Knowledges, hoping one day we will be heard! It’s Time!!”
In addition to the Women’s Statement, an overarching statement was produced by all First Nations present at the forum. The ‘Mildura Statement 2021’ provides guidance to water holders around four key themes:
- Respect water, Country and Lore
- Address our concerns
- Recognise that our rivers are at risk
- Help us protect and grow the things that are important to us
This ‘Mildura Statement’ provides a powerful contribution to planning for water delivery in the Southern Connected Basin, and was included in its entirety in the planning documents published by environmental water holders.
The forum concluded with those present acknowledging that to create a long-term meaningful process of engagement with First Nations, a shift away from the standard government model of ‘meeting in a room, sitting around tables, talking through PowerPoint presentations’ was needed. The advice from First Nations was that the next gathering should be on Country, where young people can come along and be part of the discussion too. Its only when out on Country can we have meaningful conversations about connections to rivers and waterways, and how we might align cultural and environmental watering objectives.
Covid travel restrictions have prevented an on Country gathering to date, however we hope this will be possible in Autumn 2022 so we may and continue to build meaningful relationships and partnerships between First Nations and environmental water managers across the southern Basin.