This 10-minute film available on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YItBnWz0vOU) documents the 2012 Aboriginal Women’s Natural and Cultural Resource Management (NCRM) conference held at the Macquarie Marshes Nature Reserve on Weilwan territory in New South Wales, Australia. This film can be used in introductory archaeology and environmental anthropology classes as it calls attention to how women from indigenous communities have important cultural knowledge about the significance of natural resources and their preservation. Coming together for a three-day conference offered an opportunity for these women to learn more about how they can use resources communally while giving anthropology students additional perspectives on the benefits of ensuring NCRM projects prioritize the voices of indigenous women and their communities. Their work underscores how any given location should be considered both a cultural and natural resource in need of conservation methods led by local communities who offer pertinent forms of expertise on conservation.
The idea that a place like the wetlands can be both a natural and cultural resource is also made vivid as they engaged with the land according to traditional notions of community. For example, the women were able to learn how sedge is harvested for weaving and participated in projects where even the most experienced weavers were surprised to learn new traditional techniques. The women also planted native species of sedge to preserve the wetlands for future generations and once again weave together the importance of indigenous knowledges, practices, and aspirations for the future. Cultural tours, planting, and harvesting natural resources like lomandra flax plant used for weaving and trees native to the riparian area became ways of doing and seeing cultural knowledge through community building. These activities reiterated why natural resources like the wetlands should be protected for future generations as well as the need for indigenous women to become more involved in efforts to get their lands returned.
This film additionally provides a concrete example of environmental justice and how indigenous communities are working together to combat forms of environmental racism, such as the inability to own their traditional lands. The politics of natural and cultural resource management are therefore highlighted as workshops, activities, and discussions at the conference also focused on sharing strategies toward the attainment of land titles to protect the cultural heritages inextricable with natural resources like the wetlands. Surrounded by land cultivated for agriculture, the Weilwan people have been able to establish their territory as a protected area through joint management relationships with national parks and the Australian federal government. This film enables students to learn that NCRM can be a political as well as creative process in which activism and artwork can work hand in hand to reaffirm the rightful relationships indigenous groups have with natural resources. In these multifaceted relationships, we also see how indigenous women should have a prioritized voice in the creation and implementation of conservation procedures.
Not only is the wetland a sanctuary for native plants and animals, its creation is part of a dreaming story that once again demonstrates how fundamental a natural resource can be to the identities and lives of local communities. By sharing dreaming techniques at the conference, the women reaffirmed their understandings of the spiritual, ecological, and communal values that are inseparable from the wetlands. They also illustrate how applied scientific knowledge about ecologies also requires sociocultural contextualization that considers the deeper relationships local communities have with them. Cultural activities were therefore enacted as a way to remind women of the knowledge and practices that need to be passed along to future generations as well as reiterate the importance of expanding their engagement in decision-making processes from which they have been historically excluded.
Teaching Resource Contributed By: Megan Neal, University of California, Irvine