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Indigenous women share knowledge across the Pacific

Giovanni Torre -

Four Indigenous women working in conservation have shared their Traditional Knowledge and experience with women rangers and communities in Solomon Islands.

Women Rangers Network Coordinator at WWF-Australia, Rosie Goslett-King, said: "When women are involved in conservation, we know that it’s not just the environment that benefits."

"There are healthier people, healthier families, healthier communities, and that flows onto a healthier economy, and a healthier social landscape," she said.

Ms Goslett-King, a proud Saltwater and Freshwater Budawang woman of the Yuin Nation, was part of the group of Indigenous women who took part in a first-of-its-kind volunteer exchange.

She was joined by Azarnia Malay, Cindy-Lou Togo and Mary Blyth for a month-long visit to Solomon Islands.

During the project, the volunteers visited three communities in Solomon Islands’ Western Province, sharing their diverse experiences of conservation and caring for Country. They met with Elders, community leaders and rangers in Pusiju, Nusatuva and Sagheraghi.

The exchange was part of Indigenous Pathways, an Indigenous-led component of the Australian Volunteers Program, in partnership with WWF-Solomon Islands, WWF-Australia and the Indigenous Women’s Ranger Environmental Network (WREN).

The aims were to strengthen locally led conservation in the Pacific, and for Indigenous Australian and Pacific Island women working in conservation to identify common challenges and opportunities to support one another.

Coming from the Illawarra (southeast New South Wales), Murganella (West Arnham Land), Kuku Yalanji country (far-north Queensland), and Dambimangari (Western Australia), the women say they learnt just as much from the experience as they were able to share. The volunteers learnt about local conservation efforts, traditional fishing methods and approaches to food security.

Cindy-Lou, a Bundjalung Traditional Owner, leads a team of women rangers at the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation in far north Queensland.

"I loved learning about the three communities we went to", she says.

"They all had similar cultures [to ours]. It was good learning, getting to know them, sharing knowledge and stories."

Alice Tamang, Indigenous Programs Manager at the Australian Volunteers Program, began planning the exchange before the COVID-19 pandemic, working closely with WWF-Solomon Islands, WWF-Australia, and the Australian Volunteers Program team in Solomon Islands.

Ms Tamang, a Dharug woman, says one of the best parts of the exchange was seeing the volunteers and members of the local communities taking part in ‘story’ each evening, an important part of the culture in Solomon Islands.

"One of the greatest successes of the project was the way in which the volunteers and communities came together to learn about each other’s contexts," she said.

"It was fantastic to see the volunteers and the women they met sharing knowledge of local conservation efforts and discussing how these are integrated with existing cultural practices."

 

 

Australian volunteer Rosie Goslett-King, Minnie Rafe from WWF-Solomon Islands, Australian volunteer Cindy-Lou Togo, Solomon Islands Program Manager Eve Aihunu, Indigenous Pathways Manager Alice Tamang and Australian volunteer Mary Blyth outside the Australian High Commission in Honiara. image: Supplied by Alice Tamang.

 

Ms Malay, from Malarndoom country in the North of Dambimangari, and a biodiversity ranger with the Dambimangari Aboriginal Corporation, said keeping culture alive is critical.

"It’s very important to keep our culture and story going. Without that as Indigenous people, we feel we don’t have anything, if we don’t have a story or our culture."

Ms Blyth, a Cultural Advisor with the Northern Land Council, reflects on the importance of women having leadership roles in conservation.

"For women looking after Country, it gives an opportunity for an income and helps with independence, to have responsibility," she said.

Solomon Islands Program Manager Eve Aihunu accompanied the volunteers for part of the exchange.

"This exchange allowed the Solomon Islands communities to share our simple yet effective ways of doing conservation work with limited to no resources," she said.

"Equally, it gave the communities the opportunity to learn different ways of doing things that will help us to do what we do better."

Ms Aihunu said the exchange allowed the communities in Solomon Islands to see that women can be rangers and leaders in conservation. She observed young people and women in the communities being inspired to get involved in conservation work, and to potentially become rangers themselves.

"For example, in Pusiju, a few Elders – both women and men – were appreciating how the four women rangers were playing very active roles in looking after their land and marine resources, as well as cultural teaching and preservation work in their country," she said.

"They could see that both men and women can work together to help preserve our culture and our resources whilst having the women folk also take up leadership roles with this important work."

Minnie Rafe, the Community Based Fisheries Management Programme Coordinator at WWF-Solomon Islands, said the exchange had a significant impact on the women in the communities that took part.

"The... exchange has really helped to encourage local women to see the important role that they can play in protecting their resources and environment," said Ms Rafe.

She said the exchange also made an impact on staff at WWF-Solomon Islands.

"It was eye opening to learn about different ways that resource owners can work with different stakeholders to look after their resources."

WWF-Solomon Islands Conservation Manager Henry Kaniki said the exchange was motivational for the community members who took part.

"That even in Australia, [the Indigenous women] are working to also conserve their resources and their environment," he said.

The volunteers noticed there were many challenges in common between their own communities back home and the communities they visited. Shared challenges include conservation being a male-dominated industry, remote community challenges, such as housing, food security and domestic violence, getting people in charge to listen to grassroots organisations, and a lack of support from bureaucratic agencies.

The project wrapped up with the volunteers attending the annual symposium on women's leadership in coastal fisheries management resources, arranged by WWF-Solomon Islands. The symposium, held in Gizo, was an opportunity for the volunteers to meet women leaders working in conservation across Solomon Islands. Cindy-Lou spoke on a panel about her role managing and mentoring a team of female rangers.

Ms Togo said she would encourage other Indigenous women rangers to take part in future opportunities.

"I really liked this trip and would highly recommend coming, it was a real eye opener for me, I loved every minute of it," she said.

Indigenous Pathways focuses on expanding and strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander involvement in international volunteering, by providing culturally safe, flexible, and tailored support. The Australian Volunteers Program and Indigenous Pathways are funded by the Australian government. More information about the Program is available online.

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