Valuing Indigenous cultural connections

Jarvis, Diane, Stoeckl, Natalie, Douglas, Michael, Grainger, Daniel, Larson, Silva, Finau, Glenn, Larson, Anna, Ewamian Aboriginal Corporation, EAC, Barrowei, Ryan, Coleman, Bessie, Groves, David, Hunter, Joshua, Lee, Maria, and Markham, Michael (2022) Valuing Indigenous cultural connections. Report. James Cook University, Cairns, QLD, Australia.

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This project delivers a new approach that will enable Indigenous cultural connections to, and the sustainable management of, Country to be ‘valued’ alongside emerging environmental economic accounts that attribute a monetary value to ecosystems services.

Conventional environmental-economic accounting relies on a linear model, in which the size (extent) and condition of a particular natural area and its ecosystems determines the flow of ‘services’ to people and, hence, the dollar value of their various benefits. Ecosystem services are diverse, ranging from food, fresh water, fibre and resources to carbon capture, erosion control, recreation and spiritual benefits. However, Indigenous communities see people as an integral part of complex, interconnected ecosystems and consider stewardship of the environment, or care for Country, as a reciprocating relationship. Within this holistic, virtuous cycle Country cares for people, and hence delivers ecosystem services, because people care for Country.

While the importance of this Indigenous model for maintaining precious ecological resources is now widely recognised, a key challenge lies in measuring or defining its ‘value’. This is increasingly important as recent international and national environmental accounting initiatives provide new opportunities for the considerable, but long overlooked, value of ecosystem services to be factored into policy- and decision-making and environmental and land management.

The development by the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE) of an experimental system that will account for ecosystem services from 2022, means the questions of if, or (if the answer to if is ‘yes’) how, valuable Indigenous connections to Country can be integrated into such accounts is pressing. To provide an answer for DAWE, we partnered with two distinct groups of Indigenous Traditional Owners (TOs) from regions in Queensland and the Northern Territory. We found that accounting approaches which consider only the one-way flow of ecosystems benefits to people and the various ecosystems service categories and monetary values that underpin emerging ecosystem accounting frameworks were fundamentally incompatible with Indigenous values, concepts and relationships with Country.

This means, the ‘value’ of Indigenous land management cannot simply be captured by integrating Indigenous practices into Australia’s overarching Environmental Economic Accounting – Ecosystem Accounts (EEA EA). We deliberately place quotation marks around the word ‘value’ – flagging that in this report, we interpret the word ‘value’ through an (almost) psychological lens (i.e. as something that is ‘important’) rather than through a financial lens (i.e. as something that is worth considerable amounts of money in a market). We worked with our Indigenous partners to develop an alternative, parallel ‘valuation’ model and a generic method/process and set of indicators to enable connections to Country to be accounted for. This will enable future Indigenous-led partnerships to develop specific, context specific indicators for the diverse Indigenous communities across Australia.

Item ID: 76051
Item Type: Report (Report)
Keywords: Ecosystem services; Caring for Country; Aboriginal Australian cultural connections to Country; Accounting for ecosystem service values; SEEA EA; Kakadu
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Copyright Information: © James Cook University, 2022. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Funders: National Environmental Research Program (NESP)
Projects and Grants: Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub Project: Valuing Indigenous Cultural Connections
Date Deposited: 19 Oct 2022 02:28
FoR Codes: 38 ECONOMICS > 3801 Applied economics > 380105 Environment and resource economics @ 50%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4503 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental knowledges and management > 450304 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander environmental knowledges @ 20%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4504 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing > 450420 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social, emotional, cultural and spiritual wellbeing @ 30%
SEO Codes: 15 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 1599 Other economic framework > 159999 Other economic framework not elsewhere classified @ 50%
21 INDIGENOUS > 2104 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and culture > 210402 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander connection to land and environment @ 50%
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