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Teaching Heritage

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Australian Heritage Council

Recognising that the deliberate and systematic disempowerment of Australia's indigenous peoples over the last two centuries has not extinguished their rights over, and obligations towards, their heritage, past and present, and the land, the following principles could guide the Commission in its dealings with indigenous peoples:

  1. Accept, and act in accordance with, the principle that deliberate and systematic disempowerment of indigenous peoples is best addressed through self determination for indigenous people. (Recommendations 51 and 188 of the Royal Commission Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody). This includes the principle of obtaining informed consent to the listing of places on the Register of the National Estate.
  2. Accept, and act in accordance with, the principle that indigenous peoples and communities must be empowered to decide how, where and the form that consultation should take. This includes the principle of the right to choose the most appropriate people and organisations to undertake consultation even if this means that consultation with indigenous peoples costs more, and is more time consuming, than consultation with other stakeholders. (Recommendation l92 of the Royal Commission Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody).
  3. Accept, and act in accordance with, the principle that actions in relation to indigenous places and interests (nominations, listings, publicity) without prior informed consent contribute to the deliberate and systematic disempowerment of indigenous people and their continued disadvantage and inequality.
  4. Where national estate listings affect past or present indigenous rights and interests in heritage or land, the Commission shall only pursue a listing process in close consultation with the relevant community which accommodates those considerations.

Consideration of strategic issues related to the adoption of the guiding principles

  • Some stakeholders may feel alienated by the guiding principles of this policy, and the Commission needs to be prepared to provide an argument for why one group of stakeholders would be given different treatment to another.
  • This policy provides the background and consideration of issues of why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a unique group of stakeholders with particular needs. The policy provides the basis for justifying the adoption of particular strategies and practices in relation to indigenous stakeholders. Underlying all of these arguments is the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are the original inhabitants of Australia and that they continue to be significantly disadvantaged compared with other groups of stakeholders. This disadvantage also extends to the national estate.
  • The present state of the RNE indicates that the Commission has had a limited capacity to represent and include indigenous values. The Register has, for the most part, served the purposes of non-indigenous stakeholders. Indigenous places make up a small percentage of the total listings in the Register, and the majority of Aboriginal places on the Register relate to archaeological values. There has been relatively little consideration of how Aboriginal people might value these places, and this is largely a reflection of the Register as an artefact of the dominant culture of Australia. The Commission has adopted a practice of consulting with indigenous people prior to listing, and this has come some way towards redressing this problem. The Commission needs to continue this current practice, and demonstrate a genuine commitment to these principles, if it is to offer comprehensive advice on all heritage values. The adoption of this policy provides a significant contribution to redressing the current imbalance.
  • The principles are also relevant to both existing practices and the anticipated future role of the Commission. Recent proposals to provide the Commission with a more focused national role demands that it reassess its past successes and limitations and take particular aspects of its operations forward into the new regime. While several existing practices of the Commission already recognise that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a particular relationship with their heritage and land, unparalleled by any other groups of stakeholders, few of these have been formally endorsed by the Commission. There is some risk in moving from one regime to another that practices that are not strengthened or supported by formal policy may lapse. This is of particular concern if the Commission is to promote itself as a national leader in heritage. Many of the AHC's current practices in relation to indigenous heritage are regarded as "best practice" in heritage conservation, and it is important that the Commission maintain this commitment to indigenous heritage if it is to provide national leadership. The Commission therefore needs to maintain its commitment to the following:
  • that Aboriginal people must be consulted about their heritage, not only as a method of identifying indigenous values but as part of the conservation and protection of that heritage.

    This is not only regarded as 'best practice', but has become the standard practice of heritage agencies and professionals throughout Australia.

  • that indigenous issues are relevant to a number of heritage environments, particularly the natural environment. The AHC has recognised and endorsed this through a number of programs and policies, particularly the indigenous Owners of Natural Places Project and the adoption of principles in relation to indigenous people and "wilderness".
  • that the recommendations of the Evatt review of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection Act 1984, provide a best practice model for indigenous heritage protection.

    Although the Commonwealth Government has not endorsed the Evatt report, most heritage professionals regard it as a best practice model and the Commission has made several submissions in support of Justice Evatt's findings.

  • that integrated assessments are a desirable model for the Commission and other regimes to pursue.

One of the Commission's strengths in national leadership is its capacity to provide integrated assessments of the varied values within heritage places. lt is essential that the Commission engage the support and trust of indigenous communities if it is to understand or reflect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander values essential. This support is vital to the Commission's ability to provide national leadership in integrated heritage assessments.

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