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Global Ideas

Aboriginal people mix modern and ancient knowledge

In the Australian Outback, aboriginal rangers protect the land with a mix of modern and traditional skills.

Jigalong ranger, Cedric Watson, conducting a ground burn

The Australian Outback has long been neglected environmentally. The Martu Cultural Knowledge Program has stepped in to protect it

Organization: Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa: Martu Cultural Knowledge Program, Newman, Western Australia

The Australian Outback is a place of harsh beauty, much of it remote. Its ecology is threatened by wildfires, invasive species and resource development. The Outback is also home to the aboriginal people of Australia, who have considered the landscape sacred since time immemorial. Less than five percent of Australia's population of 24 million people currently lives there.

One of the threats to the Outback is wildfire and the lack of people to effectively manage its natural resources and the cultural value it has
for Aboriginal people. The Martu Cultural Knowledge Program in Newman, Australia, is part of a national campaign to remedy this, aiming to restore ecological balance to Australia's vast interior.

In 2005, the indigenous nongovernmental organization was founded to preserve the culture of the Martu people of Western Australia, and to help build sustainable communities.

"The elders have spoken clearly that they want to go back to country, they want to take the young people back to country, and they want to look after country," said Peter See, chief executive of the organization. Aboriginal people use the word "country" in a much broader sense than in standard English - for them it means the land to which they belong, and which encompasses all living things.

The group employs a staff of 30 year-round, with an additional 240 people hired for seasonal activities. In an "Indigenous Protected Area" twice the size of Tasmania, the program assists aboriginal rangers to bridge the gap between the Martu's deep-rooted cultural ties to the landscape, and scientific land management practices. Through long-held customs and traditions, aboriginal peoples have served as environmental stewards of the Outback - which is why the Australian government is now hiring them as rangers. Australia's Indigenous Ranger program employs roughly 700 aboriginal people to manage aboriginal territory across Australia.

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