Date of Award

1994

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts Honours

Faculty

Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Patricia Baines

Abstract

"We believe the same thing, regarding land, as the Aboriginals." This thesis has been undertaken to investigate the above statement, which I have frequently heard from environmentalists in informal conversation with them. To investigate this statement requires an analysis of all its possible meanings and underlying assumptions, and a comparison with the beliefs and perceptions regarding land that Aboriginal peoples uphold. Emphasis has been given to the word "same", as the understandings of this: word will indicate how this statement needs to be qualified. As a person who has interests in both environmental issues and those that concern indigenous people, I feel that statements such as the one above can perpetuate misconceptions about the beliefs and perceptions of Aboriginal peoples. In situations where environmentalists and Aboriginal peoples seek to work together on issues that concern both groups, such as in the shared management of National Parks, these misconceptions can lead to conflict, and the severance of communication and mutual respect. This, in my opinion, would be regrettable. Both of these groups, in their own way, are challenging the dominant land ethic which threatens their interests, and, when necessary, much could be gained by mutual support. Research for this thesis was carried out as a two-part process: (1.) a Literature Analysis, in which various texts from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sources were analyzed and compared, and (2) a Case Study, involving interviews with a Perth environmental group, and some of the Nyungar elders of the region. These people were asked to express their perceptions of land, where their perceptions originated, and how the two groups perceived each other. Their perceptions on each issue were then compared, within each group as well as a cross-culturally. Where relevant, references from the Literature Analysis were cited along with the findings. In the Conclusion that follows, the main points that had emerged from these two processes were outlined. My comments and points of view were added along with the summary. During the process of research I found that for the environmentalists perceptions of land were often intermingled with problematical perceptions of Aboriginal peoples, and their designation as the "original environmentalists". It became apparent that the priorities of non-Aboriginal environmentalists were not the same as those of Aboriginal peoples. Phrases such u "sustainable economies" and "the spirit of Gaia" were contrasted to the Aboriginal peoples' “caring for country", These reveal not only different priorities, but also different conceptual models and perspectives. This research project is not intended to provide a definitive answer to the point of inquiry, focussed on the statement given above. Its main purpose is to explore the topic and related issues, through an examination of the excerpts and citations given in the Literature Analysis and the Case Study Analysis. It is hoped that an examination of the perceptions of land and related issues, as held by environmentalists and Aboriginal people, may give some indication as to where and how they diverge, and how their perspectives may interact in shared undertakings. It involves an exploration of world views, and the difficulties encountered in cross-cultural understandings. The practice of verstehen, or empathic understanding, has been offered as one means whereby different perspectives may be communicated and understood, not as a magic formula, but as a carefully-acquired skill. In the Conclusion of this thesis, there is also the call for environmentalists and like-minded non-Aboriginals to respect the traditions of indigenous peoples, even while admiring their world-views and relationship to the land. If the former are to cultivate a more harmonious relationship with the land, it is far more appropriate for them to do so from within their own cultural framework, than to appropriate concepts and practises from indigenous peoples. Our beliefs need not be identical, but they can be equally valid in their own way.

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