As I near the completion of my Bachelor’s degree with majors in Environmental Management and Development Studies and Culture Change, like most other students I am faced with the dilemma of what career path to choose once I have finished. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to be accepted to participate in the 2013 summer round of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program for law, anthropology and some social science students and graduates.
I spent six weeks at Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation in Cairns, working on a project that aims to reinstate Indigenous authority over dugong and marine turtle conservation in the Cape York Peninsula. Working with people from diverse professional backgrounds, I was fortunate enough to participate in both conservation and development and to see how both aspects of my degree can be utilised for a career path. Furthermore, working alongside Indigenous and non-Indigenous project leaders helped me gain insight into successful collaborative management, and to see the opportunities that exist in knowledge sharing and increasing respect for and recognition of Indigenous cultural and natural resource management.
Balancing conservation and development
My internship role involved developing tools that are to be used for the development of local and regional management plans, aimed at reinstating Indigenous authority in dugong and marine turtle conservation. This involved activities such as developing a community consultation tool for Indigenous communities, compiling a research report on traditional hunting methodology, and researching the sustainable harvesting numbers for dugong and turtles. Other, more administrative tasks, involved minute taking at meetings, writing a newspaper article for the Cape York Newsletter, and researching legislative mechanisms for day-to-day native title and National Parks related activities. I was also fortunate enough to attend an on-country consultation meeting.
The tasks I was given enabled me to develop project research and report writing skills, as well as community consultation and social field work skills. The research involved community, anthropological and scientific work, exposing me to hands-on learning experience in both aspects of my degree. The project was interdisciplinary, meaning that I had to grapple with and critically examine overlapping issues such as environmental justice, social justice, and Indigenous and conservation rights. I learned to appreciate the complex nature of interdisciplinary projects, but most importantly my perceptions started to shift in a way only possible through experience.
I started to realise the importance of balancing and incorporating a diversity of views in any given conservation and development project. Not only did I learn about the intrinsic value of dugongs and marine turtles, as keystone species within their habitats, but I learned about the importance that both animals play for Indigenous Australians – culturally, economically and nutritionally. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed dugongs are vulnerable and most turtle species as endangered on the global scale. At the same time, native title rights enable Indigenous Australians in the Cape York Peninsula to continue hunting the animals, for they are an important source of nutritional food in remote regions where access to affordable and quality food is difficult. Dugongs and marine turtles are also important culturally and spiritually to the wellbeing of Indigenous communities. As I realised the myriad of social, ecological, economic and political issues that surround the conservation project, I began to understand how difficult it is to find a common solution that will please both Indigenous and conservation groups.
The social and environmental issues we are facing in the 21st century require interdisciplinary approaches and innovative ideas. The project made me realise the importance of bridging the gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous understanding to further the balancing of conservation and development efforts; but in a way so as to achieve egalitarianism for both Indigenous peoples and environment, both of which have struggled to find a voice.
The Aurora Internship Program offers placements during the summer and winter university breaks. Applications for the upcoming winter 2013 round of internships will be open from Monday 4th March through Thursday 28th March 2012. Applications can be submitted on-line via the Aurora website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/nativetitleinternshipprogram.