The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) has joined forces with Northern Territory Ranger groups and partners for a landmark Caring for Country partnership.

NAILSMA launched the $2.6 million Indigenous-led Caring for Country partnership in late September.

The initiative will combine artificial intelligence and traditional knowledge to enable local Indigenous rangers to implement solutions to monitor the heath of their country and care for animal species and habitats.

“[The partnership will] develop tools that will help mob on the ground with those issues that they have identified and will continue to identify other threats that emerge and threaten country,” NAILSMA CEO Ricky Archer said.

The organisation will work with Northern Territory Ranger groups including Aak Puul Ngantam, Normanby Land Management and Kalan Enterprises along with major digital companies CSIRO, Microsoft, and The Telstra Foundation.

The partnership also includes the Federal Government’s National Environmental Science Program Resilient Landscape Hub and the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program.

NAILSMA, working with five Indigenous organisations, will develop the training program to manage over 3 million hectares of significant ecosystems and cultural landscapes across Cape York and the Northern Territory.

All parties will join forces to co-design a digital skills training program for Indigenous rangers.

“There are a couple of examples of how these tools will assist, the one I’ve been using often is in southern Cape York where we are looking at using drone surveying techniques
to better help manage gully erosion sites,” Mr Archer said.

“A tool we are developing with that is a predictive model, so rangers can use real-time data captured by them to get a better understanding of some of the damage that is going to be happening in those different areas.”

Mr Archer said major partners are dedicated to ensuring self-determination is at the core of the project.

“One thing which stands out from the start is that it’s been handed to NAILSMA in terms of the Indigenous solutions component,” he said.

“The governance structure of the project is a really key part, and we want to make sure that we are putting Indigenous rangers and Traditional Owners in the best position based on what they are telling us.

“[We’re] trying to find better ways in how we can better support their aspirations in their partnership.”

Mr Archer noted that the “big organisations” were very supportive of Indigenous leadership on the project.

“This partnership is about working together to enhance digital skills,” Jackie Coates, head of Telstra Foundation said.

“So that more First Nations communities can use digital technologies in their caring-for-country activities, in line with the wisdom of traditional Indigenous knowledge systems.”

“This program shows how an Indigenous-led and collaborative approach to building and using digital technology can create real-world impact for Indigenous people,” Tianji Dickens, philanthropies lead at Microsoft said.

Working with and incorporating traditional knowledge, Mr Archer said the safety of Indigenous cultural intellectual property was a key priority of the project.

“Ultimately, the data is theirs and the traditional knowledge components will be managed from the Indigenous rangers and organisations end,” he said.

“It is up to us how we support that and put those secure frameworks in pace for what those groups are happy with it.”

Despite the partners and technology, Mr Archer said the most important part of the project was country.

“No matter how flash technology is we don’t want it to overtake people’s connection to country.”

“We want to be continually supporting opportunities so that Traditional Owners can be out there on country, managing their cultural and natural resources.

“We want to develop these digital tools to help support that, we don’t want to replace it.”

By Eelemarni Close-Brown