Aboriginal people in the Murray–Darling Basin have been looking at new ways to evaluate the cultural health of waterways. This is driven by the need to have their unique cultural relationship with land and water taken into account in decision making around water management in the basin.
To be of practical use, an evaluation has to express local values and beliefs, and be in a form that allows comparison of sites. Armed with this information Aboriginal leaders will be in a stronger position to contribute to water planning processes.
The Cultural Health Index is one such method. It was developed by Maori scientists in New Zealand to help Maori people participate in local water management in a meaningful way.
This index is being adapted to Australian circumstances, and as a tool that would allow Aboriginal traditional perspectives and knowledge to incorporate western scientific methods.
The Cultural Health Index is based on three main factors:
- The traditional significance of the site
- The food gathering and usefulness value of the site
- The cultural stream health
The findings of the index would enable the Murray–Darling Basin Authority and other agencies to gain a clearer understanding of which sites Aboriginal people think are important.
The process of assessing the health of waterways using the Cultural Health Index involves:
- careful site selection
- a formal assessment process
- data management and security
- high quality supporting information
- appropriate consent to use cultural knowledge
Trials of the index will be commencing in the basin soon, with a view to ensuring the methodology will work for Aboriginal people in the Basin.
Keep your eye out in the coming months for some examples on this blog of where the Cultural Health Index trials are taking place.