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First Nations exchange: A platform for learning

We covered a lot of ground in two days of meetings in Ottawa – Ministers, opposition MPs, government departments, diplomats – and one topic we kept coming back to was education. The platform that Indigenous rangers and Indigenous Protected Areas create for learning is a fundamental indication of these programs’ success.

Education takes many shapes in Indigenous land and sea management. The fostering and strengthening of traditional knowledge and culture is central, and we bear witness to the incredible value that brings to individuals, communities, and to every one of us through deeper understanding and better environmental management.

Indigenous ecological knowledge, or traditional ecological knowledge, is the term used for the body of understanding that has been built up over hundreds of generations of living on the land. This knowledge is shared culturally through stories, dances and songs and can form the basis for how people interact with the land and each other. It is a powerful tool for land managers as it can give an understanding of the ecological processes that underpinned the local environment before colonisation. As such, can give an indication of the work that needs to be undertaken to restore the land. Indigenous ecological knowledge forms part of the cultural training for rangers and indeed many ranger groups consult with elders before conducting works in different areas and at different times of the year.

Mainstream education is part of the picture of Indigenous land and sea management too. In Australia, all ranger groups report informal training as part of the job, and close to 70 per cent of Indigenous rangers undertake formal training each year. Rangers undertake accredited conservation management qualifications, attain equipment use and maintenance licences, and may be supported with literacy, numeracy and ‘job ready’ education through their ranger jobs. People skill up at work and, at the same time, improve their confidence and abilities outside of work too.

Our Innu Guardians teach high school environmental sciences.

Valerie Courtois, Indigenous Leadership Initiative.

But rangers don’t only receive training. In both Australia and Canada, rangers and guardians regularly share their skills and knowledge with communities, for example by engaging with young people, often through junior ranger programs or local schools.

“The children can see – they capture the vision of their parents working as rangers – and they can see that example.” 

Dean Yibarbuk, Warddeken senior ecologist.

The invaluable leadership of guardians in sharing ecological knowledge – both Indigenous and mainstream – is reinforced as rangers act as role models and instil motivation in young people in their communities.

But there was one really important message in the discussion about training and education: jobs are a key part of the picture.

“We had a dozen young people training and Auntie Laura said to me – and Auntie Laura’s not someone you can ignore – she said, ‘no more training without jobs at the end of it.’ And that became my mission, to get ranger work for our mob.” 

Denis Rose, Gunditjmara senior traditional owner.

We talked about the fact that if there isn’t stable, long term funding for jobs that complements all the training, then it amounts to very little. It can demotivate young people and the new skills can be lost. Education and training is an important part of the picture that must include real jobs that deliver meaningful work with stable and fair working conditions.

The bottom line is that there is a lot that is positive that is going on with land and sea management at the community level.   It was clear to us that with the right backing and funding from government, this work can take off in Canada in the same way we’ve seen in Australia. We’re proud to be working with our Canadian mates to help make that happen.