This year's Key Forum at the Garma Festival of Traditional Knowledge wound up with a commitment to further engage with Indigenous people in decision-making processes and to better understand their sacred link between lands and culture.
The three-day forum, entitled “Indigenous Knowledge: Caring for culture and country”, was coordinated by Charles Darwin University as part of the annual five-day Garma Festival held at Gulkala in north-east Arnhem Land.
More than 400 Indigenous leaders, health professionals, policy specialists and industry leaders discussed and challenged the theme.
International keynote speaker Maori Treaty negotiator Sir Tipene O'Regan opened the forum with an emphatic speech calling upon Indigenous communities to find and grow self-empowerment.
His comments began three days of invigorating debate via workshops and forums that tackled the environmental, social and political influences behind the notion of caring for culture and country.
Broad discussion areas included governance, Indigenous knowledge, sea management programs, Indigenous economic futures and government mechanisms.
Examples of capable and growing Indigenous organisations were also discussed as role models for many others throughout Australia.
The forum heard from researchers linking the health of Indigenous peoples to their relationship with the land, the growth and increased recognition of sea-management programs, initiatives to provide micro-loans to communities and the role of Indigenous fire knowledge in reducing carbon emissions.
The debate saw the issues of communication with Indigenous people and respect for their cultures as common threads of concern.
Business leader Micko O’Byrne urged a radical and momentous shift of industry and government to tackle Indigenous unemployment while the role of the government-subsidised employment scheme CDEP in holding back Indigenous employment was hotly contested.
Addressing the closing plenary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma made a number of recommendations, including:
- Developing a national Indigenous representative body that gives a representative voice into the political and media arena;
- Encouraging government to follow rhetoric about partnerships and relating to people with solid investment and authentic commitment;
- Increase and develop programs that maintain and enhance the relationship Indigenous people share with their culture and lands.
Commissioner Calma drew parallels between the urgency required in the improvement of Indigenous outcomes with that of the Australian Government investing millions of dollars in the late 1970s to create world class athletes.