First Nations people fear becoming the first climate refugees, and will no longer live on their traditional lands without adequate training or assistance to help them adapt to climate change.
The indigenous leader Michael Anderson wrote an opinion piece for Guardian Australia on Monday which outlined this concern. Anderson wrote that first nations people could become the first to have to make the choice between staying on their land and leaving it, but he says it could also be a pivotal moment for Australia.
“At the recent Northern Territory and Australian Institute of Petroleum annual conferences, one of the meetings was devoted to a review of indigenous energy and resources strategies and discussed how changes in the world economic and geophysical environment are affecting land and water management,” Anderson said.
“The changes to our land have impacts on the indigenous community. To be of further benefit to our people, we need to make a decision. That choice is not in our hands and will be ours to lose or make. We have to make it together.”
Anderson said first nations people face the prospect of leaving their land without help to find a new place to live.
“It’s possible,” he said. “They [government agencies] have little funding to take care of people on our country, so they will find it difficult to manage them.
“That’s the way the world is now, unless first nations get involved and make a strategic decision to take responsibility for those in need, they will all get the short end of the stick.
“The culture of environmental sustainability will be changed. Some communities will be abandoned as the prime minister himself concedes. This will make a big difference to Australia, so there is a real issue that we need to tackle.”
He warned that first nations people were disadvantaged by not being able to take part in decisions about their environment.
“This is a contradiction. If Aboriginal people can work with industry, they should have a role in helping manage the environment,” he said.
“They are given a closed mind, either to avoid working with industry in a consultative manner to avoid the companies undermining our cultural and spiritual beliefs or they are shut out of the decision making about how industries or our relationship with governments impacts our country. That’s the way our cultural and spiritual beliefs allow.”
He said first nations people believed in reconciliation between different races but could not do that if they were “shut out” of the decision making process.
“There are some things that each culture owns and has an issue of how to get back on track and restoring the connection with our ancestors. We have found strength in our faith in living our way and who we are. We come together in song and dance, dance and song.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have the communication with everyone to get a better understanding. We had that freedom at that time of us being on the land, with a feeling of spirituality. We have a formal relationship with the land and we are not as widely aware of that as we are of our sacred culture and spiritual practices.”
Anderson said the legal and cultural backing for first nations people to manage the environment was not there to help them make better decisions.
“We also need a different type of government leadership, because the relationships between us and everyone else are different. There are certain indigenous ways of talking and government needs to work with first nations as good neighbours.”