Indigenous cultural heritage exists throughout the lands and waters of Australia and all aspects of the landscape may be important to Indigenous people as part of their heritage. The rights and interests of Indigenous people in their heritage arise from their spirituality, customary law, original ownership, custodianship, developing Indigenous traditions and recent history. The effective protection and conservation of this heritage is important in maintaining the identity, health and well being of Indigenous people. Maintaining Indigenous heritage should also ensure a continuing role for these people in caring for country, something that benefits everyone.
Indigenous heritage is a central element in Indigenous spirituality and customary law. Its conservation ensures continued respect for Indigenous ancestors and ancestral beings who shaped the land and waterways. Many Indigenous groups have a relationship of mutual obligation with certain animals or plants. This spiritual relationship is an important aspect of Indigenous cultural heritage that should not be overlooked. Indigenous heritage places are also part of the story of Indigenous people including their recent history of resistance, survival and cultural revival.
Indigenous cultural heritage exists throughout the lands and waters of Australia and all aspects of the landscape may be important to Indigenous people as part of their heritage
Source: Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority.
Indigenous heritage conservation and management aims to sustain the relationship between Indigenous people and their heritage places in such a way that the heritage values of each place are maintained for present and future generations of all Australians.
In recognising the rights and interests of Indigenous peoples in their heritage, all parties concerned with identifying, conserving and managing this heritage should acknowledge, accept and act on the principles that Indigenous people:
- are the primary source of information on the value of their heritage and how this is best conserved;
- must have an active role in any Indigenous heritage planning process;
- must have input into primary decision-making in relation to Indigenous heritage so they can continue to fulfil their obligations towards this heritage; and
- must control intellectual property and other information relating specifically to their heritage, as this may be an integral aspect of its heritage value.
In identifying and managing this heritage:
- uncertainty about Indigenous heritage values at a place should not be used to justify activities that might damage or desecrate this heritage;
- all parties having relevant interests should be consulted on Indigenous heritage matters; and
- the process and outcomes of Indigenous heritage planning must abide by customary law, relevant Commonwealth and State/Territory laws, relevant International treaties and covenants and any other legally binding agreements.
This is an extract of ‘Ask First: A guide to respecting Indigenous heritage places and values’ by The Australian Heritage Commission, accessed on 24 November 2005 at http://www.environment.gov.au/heritage/ahc/publications/commission/books/ask-first.html
Copyright Commonwealth of Australia and reproduced by permission.