Emerging issues in Indigenous land and sea management

Research theme: 
Project status: 

The relationship between Indigenous Australians and their lands and waters is complex.  Ancient responsibilities guide the reciprocal relationship between people and country and the contemporary enactment of these spiritual and cultural obligations is often referred to as Caring for Country.  This contemporary relationship encompasses a complex range of issues including legal questions around ownership, title and control; the on-country business of natural and cultural resource management including species, habitat and visitor management as well as the complexity of natural and cultural resource governance relationships and partnerships; access and benefits for use and extraction of natural resources; the management of living spaces, amenities, roads and tracks;  leadership development; knowledge and information management; and intellectual property. The common thread is the aspiration of Indigenous Australians to control and manage their lands and waters so as to create opportunities for new and innovative livelihoods that sustain traditional connections to country.

Identifying and supporting the development of livelihoods for Indigenous Australians based on contemporary management of lands and waters is essential to building sustainable and resilient communities.  Indigenous Caring for Country activities yield significant health, social, cultural, spiritual, economic and environmental outcomes for Indigenous people as well as for broader Australia.  Indigenous Caring for Country is finding innovative ways to bring together Indigenous and non-indigenous knowledge and techniques to meet the challenges posed by a changing environment.

The rapid expansion of the Indigenous land and sea management sector in recent decades, and the arrival of many new threats and opportunities, coupled with the transition to a  post-native title determination period, creates an opportunity to think collectively about new and emerging issues and related research priorities.


Working with Indigenous and non-Indigenous stakeholders and partners, the Emerging Issues in Indigenous Land and Sea Management Project will identify the information and research needs of Indigenous Caring for Country and in consultation with stakeholders, contribute to the development of the AIATSIS and wider research agendas.

Key finding/s: 

A facilitated workshop with Indigenous leaders and practitioners to emerging issues in land and sea management was held at the 2014 National Native Title Conference. The workshop took place as part of the Native Title Conference in recognition of the role that native title determinations and Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) have played in supporting Indigenous people's aspirations to regain and strengthen their involvement in land and sea management, while also recognising that land and sea management can provide opportunities beyond or independently of the legally recognised native title rights and interests. The workshop provided an opportunity for over 60 Indigenous land managers, Registered Native Title Bodies Corporate (RNTBCs), Native Title Representative Bodies and Service providers, state and federal government departments and researchers from Australian states and territories to share ideas on emerging issues in land and sea management, including to:

  • identify emerging issues in the practice and policy development of Indigenous land and sea management
  • promote national and regional connections between Indigenous land and sea management leaders and practitioners
  • identify research priorities to support the development of Indigenous land and sea management.

The workshop was convened by Dr Rod Kennett and Dr Tran Tran from the AIATSIS Centre for Land and Water Research and facilitated by Dr Dermot Smyth, assisted by Geoff Buchannan, Rob Williams, Melanie Dulfer-Hyams, Acacia Prince-Pike and Chris Lovell.

Last reviewed: 18 Apr 2016