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Protocols, particularities, and problematising Indigenous ‘engagement’ in community-based environmental management in settled Australia

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Many Aboriginal Australians in regional and urban Australia hold attachments to their homelands that have been compromised by policies of removal and dispossession. Government agencies and community groups have ‘protocols’ for engaging with Aboriginal communities, but these protocols have been transferred from remote parts of Australia where land tenure and rights are relatively secure and people can readily claim their community of belonging. The efficacy and applicability of engagement protocols are rarely evaluated, and have not been evaluated with respect to the differing tenure regimes of settled Australia under which rights to land and its resources remain contested and unfolding. This paper describes research conducted in three study areas of regional Australia, where resource management practitioners apply projects according to engagement protocols transferred from remote Australia. Analysis of government and community-based documents, and interviews with agency staff and Aboriginal people, identifies that genuine participation, cultural awareness, agreement-making, appropriate representation and the unique place-based factors affecting engagement remain key barriers to effective engagement with Aboriginal people by institutions in urbanising Australia. In particular, appropriate representation and a need for place-based approaches emerge as critical to engagement in settled Australia. This paper recommends that engagement be considered as a multi-layered approach in which generic ‘engagement’ threads are selected and re-selected in different combinations to suit contexts, places and purposes. Thus each place-based engagement initiative is not readily typified at the local scale, but taken together, make up a regional mosaic of different engagement structures and processes.
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Keywords: Indigenous Australians; community-based environmental management; engagement; protocols

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, MAROOCHYDORE DC, Qld, 4558, Australia, Email: [email protected]

Publication date: 2010-09-01

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