“The role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women around Australia in caring for our country is a little known but inspiring story. Women as carers of country is more than a romantic notion, it’s a real confirmation of what we have always known: As Aboriginal women, we have a responsibility to our lands and seas and we bring a unique, essential and powerful contribution to their protection and management.” - Country Needs People ‘Strong Women on County Report’, 2018
Bandilingan (Windajana Gorge) photo by the Kimberley Land Council. Courtesy of WWF, 2019.
All across Australia there are Indigenous women rangers caring for Country, preserving cultural heritage and knowledge, and caring for and managing unique environments. Women are applying their know-how, learning new skills, sustaining local knowledge and creating opportunities for younger women. Indigenous ranger programs provide women with the opportunity to engage in meaningful employment, build confidence and most importantly be on country (Country Needs People, 2018).
The Indigenous ranger workforce has been traditionally male dominated, however the number of women is increasing. There is currently a record number of female rangers in the Kimberley and elsewhere around Australia. Women play a vital role in preserving culture and country. They, and their elders, have an abundance of knowledge; knowledge about bush foods, plants, traditional burning practices and women’s cultural sites. Through combining this traditional knowledge with modern conservation techniques, women rangers have a huge influence on the health and protection of their country. Employment as rangers empowers Indigenous women to do work that they are truly passionate about and can have incredible transformative benefits for their families and communities as well (The Nature Conservancy, 2021).
Country Needs People runs some incredible Indigenous women ranger programs. These women work in Indigenous Protected Areas and as leaders and managers of local land and sea management groups. This work builds women’s strength and confidence within their communities and most importantly allows the continuation of culture into future generations (Country Needs People, 2018). Laura Pearson a ranger at the Torres Strait Regional Authority talks about why she originally wanted to become a ranger:
“I wanted to be a ranger, educating the community and our children. I wanted to achieve things for my community so people are safe and we live sustainably; protecting turtle and dugong, restoring and preserving our language, maintaining traditional gardens for community members to enjoy.”
Women sorting dried seeds for the Seedbank social enterprise. Courtesy of Environs Kimberly, 2021.
Up in the Kimberley, some incredible work is being done within the women’s ranger programs. Women are applying Indigenous ecological knowledge to maintain nature and culture. They utilise their ecological knowledge through collecting and propagating seeds, undertaking revegetation projects, developing a story book with their knowledge and sharing their knowledge through social enterprise, Seedbank. Seedbank is a non-for-profit community enterprise that assists communities and local groups with support and training in collecting, storing, cleaning and propagating viable native seed (Country Needs People, 2018).
In Arnhem Land, women also form a core part of Indigenous ranger groups. They are involved in the control of invasive weeds, burns-offs and tracking endangered species. The Warddenken rangers use traditional management skills to help control the timing, intensity and scale of bushfires. The ranger group works hard at offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2006, the rangers have abated more than 1.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases (Allam, 2019). Devena Cox explains about the significance of Aboriginal women rangers and their becoming of role models for other Aboriginal women:
“We walk with our heads high…..we will break that barrier for Aboriginal women in Australia. In looking after country, women play a big role.”
Waddenken Indigenous Protected Area. Courtesy of Chuffed, 2018.
As you can see, women rangers are carrying out amazing work all around Australia, yet there are still obstacles to be overcome. Secure and ongoing funding is needed for women’s ranger groups so that they can continue to grow and flourish. Indigenous ranger programs are still male dominated and the work of women is often less recognised or formalised than that of their male counterparts. This needs to change and the incredible wisdom that the First Nations women have to offer needs to be recognised!
This week at Yarn we are celebrating the incredible successes and strength of Indigenous women. Women Indigenous rangers do significant work to protect the environment and cultural heritage of our beautiful country, we are so thankful.