2002 Northern Territory Winner - Kate Hadden
Building Sustainable Indigenous Economies through Natural Resource Development
Kate has close to fifteen years experience in sustainable land management and at the time of the Award was the Environment and Heritage Officer for the Tiwi Land Council. Kate’s vision for natural resource management generally and for the Tiwi people in particular, is to build sustainable economies around the development of natural resources without compromising cultural and natural heritage values.
The Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory are actively exploring development opportunities as a means of gaining self-determination through economic independence. There has long been concern from Tiwi leaders that reliance on the welfare system does not provide a vehicle for sustained economic opportunities or positive social outcomes.
The Inuit people of Canada are regarded as having successfully attained self-determination and are now focusing on building a sustainable system that will advance socio-economic development through natural resource utilisation.
Kate’s proposed activity centred on a tour of Nunavat and the Inuit people, in the belief that first-hand knowledge of their situation would be of immense value to the Tiwi people and to natural resource management in the Northern Territory.
The overall objective of the project was to gain first-hand experience and knowledge of how an indigenous society is successfully shifting from traditional custodianship of land to contemporary resource management, while improving social and economic outcomes for their people. Particular emphasis was placed on resource development and on the balance between resource utilisation and the maintenance of natural resource and cultural values.
Kate spent one month visiting and studying Inuit organisations and enterprises in Nunavut. Main activities included meetings and discussions with a range of organisations and individuals, to gain information and insight into the processes and procedures governing indigenous control of land and land administration, along with the development of sustainable economic ventures through natural resource utilisation. Kate met with representatives of the Canadian Federal Government, to Government of Nunavut, to Inuit representative bodies and Inuit owned businesses.
Kate believes that the Inuit experience has conclusively proven that the development of economic opportunities if linked to self-determination and self-management will have positive social outcomes. While it is unlikely that the Tiwi Islands will attain territorial status, as the Inuit people have, there remain important elements within the Nunavat model that can be applied to the current Tiwi situation.
One of the major issues facing Tiwi leadership is that of ownership of natural resources. Under current Federal and Territory legislation, cultural and natural heritage values and largely determined by non-Tiwi people, with ownership vested in relevant Ministers.
This has translated to some dis-empowerment of Tiwi leaders to negotiate economic projects with potential investors and a lack of incentive to landowners to manage their resources responsibly. A unique feature of Nunavut decision-making has been the creation of Institutions of Public Government, where decisions on natural resource management are vested with the majority Inuit people.
IPG’s form the cornerstone to Inuit ownership and control over natural resource usage, with Territory and Federal governments legally bound to accept the majority decisions of the Board. Similar structures and procedures over Aboriginal owned land would greatly enhance and streamline natural resource management and its sustainable commercialisation.
The Nunavut government has recognised the importance of baseline information to sustaining resources. Funding was allocated to undertake studies into wildlife, which had been used to allocate quotas for traditional harvest and determine levels surplus for economic use. The paucity of baseline data on the Tiwi Islands had led to legislative bodies invoking the ‘precautionary principle’ which, while sound in terms of sustainable management, does not afford opportunities for commercial development.
The Nunavut government also recognised serious deficiencies in physical infrastructure and that costly investment will be crucial to economic and social development. At the time of the Award the Tiwi were at a critical stage of development, with trial aquaculture and forestry industries proving viable and at the stage of providing significant employment and investment income. Gaps in physical infrastructure, including roads, ports, airstrips and accommodation, were constraining the realisation of economic dependence through core industries.
The Inuit peoples transition from custodial land use had not been without its social challenges, including family breakdowns, youth suicide and domestic violence. However there was general agreement that self-determination is positive and would bring more opportunities to the region and a pride and sense of self-worth to its people. Key factors that the Inuit people have identified, that have contributed to a successful transition include competent and committed expatriate professional staff, acknowledgement of the vested interest of traditional people in the region, community input into decision making and local jobs and training opportunities.
All of the above factors are valuable lessons that can be applied equally to indigenous rural communities in the Northern Territory as they explore opportunities for self-determination and economic independence.
On a personal level Kate gained a greater understanding of the processes, procedures and pitfalls associated with the transition in Nunavut - from individual as well as institutional points of view. The fact that there are significant parallels between the two areas and the obvious benefits to Inuit, provides confirmation that the Tiwi are heading in a positive direction and that the challenges they face are not all unique.
This greatly increased Kate’s confidence in her role with Tiwi people and organisations and provided her with another dimension when dealing with government agencies. More importantly, it supported her vision that the balance between natural resource development and the maintenance of cultural and natural resource values is worth working towards.