Date of Award

2010

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science Honours

School

School of Natural Sciences

Faculty

Faculty of Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Pierre Horwitz

Second Advisor

Dr Andrew Guilfoyle

Abstract

While Indigenous peoples' practices have been acknowledged to change and evolve, whether Indigenous cultural meanings invested in a specific place also change and/or evolve over time, and the affect these changes may have on land and water practices has generally been ignored. This study explores the relationship between Indigenous cultural meanings and land and water stewardship practices, and whether these change over time. A qualitative research design was employed in this study to emphasise the complex and dynamic nature of language and the relationship between people, culture and nature. This study utilised interviews collected from traditional Indigenous people concerning stories about freshwater springs located at the mouth of the Murchison river in Kalbarri, Western Australia. Thematic content analysis was employed in this study, to identify emergent themes and construct an understanding of the meanings attributed to the springs. A number of complex and interconnected themes emerged from the analysis and were categorised around the overarching notions of springs as a change of livelihood, springs as a vehicle for political expression and springs as a vehicle for the continuity of culture. Analysis revealed that the foundational meanings that participants derived from their culture and instilled in them have not changed, rather new meanings have been developed as a result of the participants interaction with their political, economical and social environments. The springs became a vehicle for possible future economic development and a source of securing a sustainable income and employment in the NRM sector, they represented reduced government welfare dependency and a desire for self-independence. An array of complex and interconnected themes encompassing the issue of 'continuity of culture and identity' emerged from analysis. Participants described their involvement in political activities to secure legal rights to occupy traditional lands through interaction and involvement in their political environment, to ensure culture, identity and familial solidarity were sustained and maintained. The investment of existing meanings and the creation of new meanings has lead the participants to evolve their stewardship practices of 'care' to include practices of 'protection'. Participants highlighted the existence of distinct differences between TEK and NRM based on a person's spiritual connection to the springs. The findings of this study support the proposition that Indigenous peoples adapt and evolve stewardship practices according to changes in meaning, therefore meaning is not only an on-going process but so are stewardship practices. These findings have important implications for Indigenous engagement and involvement in NRM. If meanings and stewardship practices are on-going processes, then engagement processes should be as well. If NRM intends to successfully incorporate and utilise Indigenous peoples' ecological knowledge, then natural resource managers should continually refrain from distinguishing 'ecological' from 'cultural', 'social', 'economical' or 'political' in conceptualising Indigenous peoples understandings and relationship with 'country'.

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