A Western Australian Government cultural heritage grants program that purports to create jobs and build skills has been labelled too small to make any significant protections of the state’s Aboriginal heritage.

The 2021 Preserving our Aboriginal Sites grants program gave just $200,000 in grants across 10 Aboriginal organisations for projects to protect and preserve registered Aboriginal heritage sites across the State.

The grants ranged from $6,447 to $30,000 for projects from installing signage and fencing to creating a keeping place for cultural materials.

At the program’s announcement, WA Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson said the grants would foster economic opportunities.

“The grants help Traditional Owners and knowledge holders transfer Aboriginal culture to emerging generations, protect cultural sites and tell stories of their heritage,” he said.

“Local jobs and training benefits also serve to preserve and promote new economic opportunities and share Aboriginal culture with the Western Australian community.”

Kimberley Land Council Chair Anthony Watson has criticised the grants program, saying the money would do little to protect the State’s heritage.

“If the Aboriginal Affairs Minister Stephen Dawson is serious about protecting Aboriginal cultural heritage he should abandon his proposed legislation that will place control over critical decision making in the hands of mining companies and other land users,” he said.

“The Minister needs to understand that a few thousand dollars in grant funding will not stop the ongoing destruction of significant Aboriginal cultural heritage in Western Australia.”

“Rather than receive grants, what Aboriginal people want is for the Minister to recognise their right to protect their own cultural heritage.”

Shadow Aboriginal Affairs Minister Vince Catania says the small size of the grants would also put pressure on organisations to create jobs for little to no money.

“Grants are always welcome, particularly to organisations that have got particular projects, but to claim that these small grants are going to create jobs is another illusion by the McGowan Labor Government,” Catania said.

“How can you create a job for $6,000? How can you create jobs for $30,000? This puts more pressure on the organisations to deliver projects that are really underfunded and not really training jobs, putting pressure on people to do jobs for a cheaper price.”

Catania said cultural heritage legislation should be prioritised instead.

“Only legislation is going to protect Aboriginal heritage, not these token grants,” he said.

“To be able to tick a box and feel that you’re doing something to protect Aboriginal heritage is just false. The government needs to do more to protect Aboriginal heritage, and that is in the form of legislation, and real meaningful grants.”

By Sarah Smit