By Celine Lai
First Nations people in Australia have cared for this country for millennia, yet are being disproportionately affected by climate change.
Bhiamie Williamson is a Euahlayi man from north-west New South Wales. He is a Research Associate and PhD Candidate at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University.
In an email from the Climate Council, Bhiamie Williamson says:
“For me, climate justice is an acknowledgement that despite contributing the least to climate change, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be among the hardest hit by its impacts.
This is why First Nations communities must have a leading role in implementing solutions to the climate crisis.
It’s also why, earlier this year, I accepted the invitation to be part of the First Nations Climate Justice Panel, an all-Indigenous panel supported by Emergency Leaders for Climate Action (ELCA).”
Bhiamie said: “The First Nations Climate Justice Panel on April 29, 2021, was an amazing opportunity to speak about the impacts of disaster on our people, our communities and our nations. Indigenous peoples have been so marginalised in these conversations in the past, and it’s time to centre our perspectives and experiences and put us at the heart of efforts to mitigate and safeguard against the impacts of climate change.”
The live-stream one-hour Panel discussion can be viewed on YouTube at the link below.
ELCA is at the forefront of the Australian bushfire and climate action movement and has produced a summary of the panel discussion, which includes a range of resources to illustrate and elevate First Nations voices in the climate conversation.
The panel members were Tishiko King, Mibu Fischer, Bhiamie Williamson, and Rae Johnston.
The ELCA summary states that in many parts of the world, Indigenous peoples have been forced from their land to make way for mining operations and other fossil fuel developments and/or have seen their land and waters polluted, threatening their health and security. The Summary includes the following points.
Mibu Fischer pointed out that:
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have lived sustainably on this continent for thousands of generations. Through these vast periods of continuous habitation, communities have developed extraordinarily sophisticated knowledge of their local ecology, weather, seasonal cycles, and more. These traditional knowledge systems and associated practices enabled communities to flourish in harmony with their ecosystems, protecting Country for future generations.
On the one hand, today there is growing recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge and practices. Most obviously, the time since the 2019-20 fires has seen an explosion of interest in traditional landscape management and cultural burning. On the other hand, panellists talked of the uphill battle to gain respect and support within Australia’s more powerful institutions, as well as problematic attitudes from many non-Indigenous researchers.”
Tishisko King said:
“Around the world, First Nations communities are fighting hard to protect land, rivers and oceans from both the impacts of climate change and the ongoing assault of the fossil fuel industry. In many many instances, here in Australia and globally, it is First Nations who are leading these fights. Very often these struggles have been waged for years before they come to the attention of the wider public.”
The panel highlighted two urgent and iconic fights in Australia, the first being the campaign by Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network, working with traditional custodians and their communities, to protect Country from the harmful impacts of fracking in the Northern Territory.
To find out more and to read about the second initiative, download and read the Summary of the Panel discussion at the link below. The written summary is an invitation to further explore the issues raised, and to continue listening to First Nations’ perspectives on the climate crisis.
At the end of each section is a selection of resources for additional learning, and phrases highlighted throughout are further defined in the glossary.