Indigenous heritage


SoE 2011 (SoE Committee 2011) recognised that the connection between people and Country is a fundamental aspect of Indigenous cultural heritage. Adequate knowledge of tangible individual sites and landscapes, and intangible traditional knowledge, cultural practices and ongoing use of heritage places by Indigenous people help to retain identity and sense of place, and build self-esteem within Indigenous communities (Productivity Commission 2010).

Involving Indigenous people in the management of their heritage may take many forms. For archaeological sites, such involvement may include consultation or moreand more proactiveengagement and community-based cultural heritage management. In some jurisdictions, traditional owners are accorded decision-making powers or influential advisory roles. There are increasing examples of productive, collaborative and empowering approaches to Indigenous heritage management in recent years (Myles et al. 2013).

The outlook for Indigenous heritage depends on the processes that are available to document physical sites and transmit traditional knowledge within Indigenous communities. Since SoE 2011, there have been some significant improvements, including dedication of an additional 42 IPAs, covering more than 35 million additional hectares (DoEE n.d.[j]), and creating employment opportunities and cultural connections for additional Indigenous rangers. Australia hosted a World Indigenous Network gathering in 2013. There have been more Indigenous places added to the National Heritage List and protected through land reservation or statutory listing. Blanket provisions in some state and territory statutes provide important protection for unidentified or unknown Indigenous heritage places. A net loss of Indigenous language in the past 5 years is a significant concern and adverse trend, but traditional knowledge, and land and sea management are increasing.

Indigenous heritage remains at risk from incremental destruction. This arises in part from a lack of formally protected sites, but also from reactive statutory assessment and development-consent systems, and a pattern of conscious lawful destruction arising from informed development consent. Indigenous communities continue to express concern about this issue generally, and through opposition to specific development projects. The Australian Government has not convened a national forum of Indigenous heritage managers, and does not directly propose to do so as part of the Australian Heritage Strategy. The strategy does, however, recognise the need for a ‘consistent approach to the recognition, protection and management of Indigenous heritage sites across all levels of government and other organisations’. The strategy proposes the publication and promotion of a new edition of Ask first: a guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values (Australian Government 2015a; Objective 9).

Mackay R (2016). Heritage: Indigenous heritage. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0