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Connecting and Sharing River Voices

Professor Anne Poelina from the Nulungu Research Institute delivered a powerful final keynote address at the Connected by Water conference on the importance of Indigenous voices and why connecting and sharing Indigenous science is the key for the future of sustainable water.

“I stand here today asking how am I connected to water? Water is everything to me. I belong to the Fitzroy River, the Martuwarra, it is everything to us, a living ancestral serpent being. We are creating a coalition of hope through the story of our people.” - Professor Anne Poelina 

The final keynote session of Connected by Water discussed the need to recognise Indigenous voices. Professor Anne Poelina called for delegates to refer to the thousands of years of Indigneous storytelling and knowledge as Indigenous Science.

“We are and were the oldest water industry in the world, we need collective wisdom to come together to build the most precious resource in the world. Water is the new gold and we need to think about how we use it, or we will lose it” - Professor Poelina said.

Copyright: Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council

Indigenous Science

First Nations people have always passed down indigenous science through storytelling. It's the methodology to identify and connect with the land, water and air. 

"Wake up the snake means how do we wake up the consciousness of the people to work with us. How do we define a way forward. As Indigenous people, we do not separate the land, water or sky. It is intrinsic and twisted for us. This knowledge that Indigenous people have since the beginning of time is crucial for sustainable water management. Wisdom is important for modernity”

To wake up the snake, western leaders need to allow input from First Nations people and stop living in a silo driven system that pushes indigenous people to continue to live in water poverty.

"The people [First Nations] who own the water are asked to pay for it and they're struggling to survive. How do we move forward in the spirit of collaboration?"

The voices of the Martuwarra

"The valley tracks of the Fitzroy River, the Martuwarra, the serpent, we need to protect it" - Professor Poelina.

The Martuwarra (Fitzroy River) is an iconic, heritage listed and unregulated river system of global significance. The environmental and cultural values are recognised in both the Western Australian Aboriginal Cultural and National Heritage Listings.

The Martuwarra carves a 700km path through the West Kimberley, along deep sandstone gorges, savannah woodland and open floodplains. The River has sustained nature and First Nations people for countless millennia. For the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, representing Traditional Custodians from Bunuba, Gooniyandi, Nyikina, Wangkatjunka and Walmajarri groups, Martuwarra is a living, ancestral being.

Copyright: Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council

As chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council, Anne Poelina's vision is to ensure Martuwarra retains a right to live and flow. The Council considers Martuwarra to be communal property, an ‘asset in the commons’ that belongs to all of us. The River must be protected for the benefit of all present and future generations.

The Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council continues to develop its capacity as a knowledge broker in the pursuit of Indigenous rights, climate, land and water justice. Council’s ability for ‘truth telling’ continues to build partnerships with conservation groups, industry, and university partners. Importantly, to focus on community led initiatives to ensure development will sustain both lifeways and sustainable livelihoods on and with Country.

The Martuwarra River Keepers program is a First Nations-led initiative that will protect and regenerate the natural and cultural values of Martuwarra through Indigenous knowledge-gathering and the development of a local cultural conservation economy.

The initiative transitions Indigenous community members into a sustainable career pathway that provides the opportunity to live and work on Country.

After 150 years of invasive colonial development, the people of the Martuwarra cannot have peace whilst being continuously invaded. Invasive developments are fast tracked through a failure of due diligence and respect at every level. It’s time to do just development on just terms. They want to share an understanding of the ‘Martuwarra River Commons.’ As global citizens, they balance the life of our sacred ancestral being, Martuwarra, who embodies the interdependence between all life.

Martuwarra and her peoples dream to share with fellow Australians in the transition from extractive industries to 'forever economies'. Martuwarra and her peoples are at the ‘Tipping Point’ of foreseeable harm from invasive, un-just developments. They seek new ‘forever economies’ based on culture, science, and conservation.

Water sustainability must involve Indigenous voices. It's time to "wake up the snake".

View more information on 'Trail for Life'.

Find out more on the inaugural Connected by Water conference including photo galleries and recaps.