The VEWH in 2021-22 developed a statement on how it seeks to increase the agency and self-determination of Traditional Owners in the environmental watering program. The VEWH is working with Traditional Owners, DEECA and waterway manager and land manager partners on Water is Life implementation.
“The VEWH acknowledges the important contribution Traditional Owners and Aboriginal knowledge systems make to the Victorian environmental watering program. There is a meaningful intersection between the aims of the program – healthy waterways, healthy communities – and the deep and enduring obligations Traditional Owners have to Country and community. More can be done to increase this contribution and enable progress towards self-determination within the program.
The VEWH acknowledges that existing frameworks and processes for the management of water on Country do not adequately provide opportunities for empowerment and agency of Traditional Owners. Legislative and policy changes will be required – beyond VEWH’s remit – to better enable Traditional Owners to access and manage water on Country on their own terms. Adequately recognising and strengthening the rights and agency of Traditional Owners in water management is critical for achieving self-determination, but also more sustainable water management and improved waterway health into the future.”
Victorian Environmental Water Holder Traditional Owner Statement, 2022
Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations
Environmental water holders seek to consider the objectives and cultural values of Traditional Owners, and to support these values where possible. The health of the Murray-Darling Basin benefits from meaningful partnerships with Traditional Owners, and their involvement in water planning, coordination and delivery from the local to the basin scale.
In April 2021, a forum on Latji Latji Country in Mildura brought together Traditional Owner representatives from many parts of the southern Murray-Darling Basin to share information about the health of Country and discuss preferred outcomes from the management of environmental flows. Participants developed a statement on the use of water for the environment to guide environmental flow planing, particularly through the Southern Connected Basin Environmental Watering Committee.
“Water can never be ‘owned’. Water and rivers have life and spirit which cannot be bought and sold. All ‘ownership’ of water in this Country is based on the dispossession of First Nations and imposition of colonial legal frameworks. We have never ceded our inherent rights as guardians and caretakers of rivers and waters including our groundwaters. First Nations lore provides a holistic, interconnected management system, where all elements contribute to the good of the whole.
We want to collaborate, but we do not accept or endorse the legal and management frameworks that have been imposed on our rivers and groundwaters. We ask our partners to respect our water spirits, knowledge and lore.”
Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations Statement on Environmental Water Use, 2022