AUSTRALIA – Indigenous cultural burning has been reintroduced in central Victoria for the first time in almost 200 years.
Forest Fire Management Victoria and Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation (DDWCAC) will bring back the practice after collaborating with traditional owners in the United States and Canada.
DDWCAC director Trent Nelson said bringing back Indigenous cultural burnings will not only help reconnect Indigenous people to their history, but also assist in maintaining the land for future generations.
“For Dja Dja Wurrung people it’s about having our right to bring back our practices that our ancestors did many years ago,” he said.
Mr Nelson recently returned from a trip to the US and Canada where he found similarities in how the two native cultures deal with land management.
“Looking at traditional owners in America [compared] with here in Victoria there are a lot of similarities with our cultural values and aspirations to using cultural burnings and fire as a land management tool,” Mr Nelson said.
“I found that our fire and land management is actually well advanced compared to America when it comes to involving traditional owners.”
“Dja Dja Wurrung, working with Forest Fire Management Victoria, is unique because a lot of cultural burns have been done on private blocks of land,” he said.
“What we are doing is on public land so it’s a different process. We are embedding it into the same process as doing planned burns across the state.
“It has been more than 170 years since burnings were done on Dja Dja Wurrung country.
“We want to try and utilise cultural burnings to be able to manage public landscapes for future generations.”
Cultural shift to enable future burnings
Scott Falconer, who accompanied Mr Nelson on the overseas trip, is the assistant chief fire officer with Forest Fire Management Victoria, and said 27 cultural burns are scheduled for the next two years, something he said was a huge achievement.
Mr Falconer said creating positions for Indigenous people within organisations such as his was the way forward in helping to maintain public land.
“One of the roles of non-Aboriginal people is to enable and build capability, and then just get out of the way,” he said.
“That’s a cultural change for our organisation so we are working on that as well. There’s a lot of support by government and agencies. Traditional owners are driving this and we need to listen to them.
“I think all Australians can benefit greatly from understanding our history better and doing things like this to enable self-determination for Indigenous people.”
Mr Nelson said the goal for DDWCAC was to build trust with government agencies by having Indigenous people conducting cultural burns on Dja Dja Wurrung country in central Victoria across the next two years.
“It’s always good to have learnings, but for us it’s about the practical outcomes and having our people out there burning,” he said.
“Every time we burn we learn something new and that’s what it’s about — building the department’s confidence in us so we can work together in the future.”
Cultural burnings connect people to country
Alongside helping to maintain public land, Mr Nelson said cultural burnings help re-connect Indigenous people with their history.
“There are a lot of different aspirations and objectives for why we do cultural burnings,” he said.
“We want to use fire as a technique and a tool to heal country but also in healing our people, and involving families, elders and young ones through traditional burning.”
Mr Falconer said engaging with Indigenous practices can be mutually beneficial.
“It’s really about how do we listen to what Aboriginal people know and what they can add in Victoria, where we are one of the most fire prone areas in the world,” he said.
“We have had so many learnings, including how to engage with traditional owners from a western perspective. We really want this to be an ongoing learning.”