Using the holistic wellbeing impact evaluation (W-IE) approach—well suited for use in Indigenous communities—the researchers interviewed 190 Indigenous Australians across four communities. All communities were involved in the Indigenous land and sea management programs (ILSMPs). This study explored the conceptualisation of ‘wellbeing’ by participants. In particular, the researchers were interested in the aspects of wellbeing perceived to be affected by ILSMPs. Out of the 26 wellbeing factors explored, ‘Health centres’; ‘Language’; ‘Schools’; and ‘Safe community’ emerged as being of highest importance to the largest percentage of the respondents. When grouped using principle components analysis (PCA), the ‘Community and society’ domain emerged as the most important; accounting for 52% of the overall importance of all wellbeing factors. The second most important domain was the ‘Country and culture’, contributing 31%. Lastly, ‘Economic aspects’ contributed only 17%. Respondents believed that ILSMPs have played a considerable causal role in improving wellbeing, by positively changing factors most important to them. Specifically, 73% of perceived causal links were related to improvements in the ‘Country and Culture’ and 23% to ‘Community and Society’ domain. The researchers thus conclude that land management for Indigenous people is much more than ecological or environmental management with ILSMPs, perceived to cause a wide range of cultural and social benefits. We also propose ways in which the future design of such programs could be improved to further increase benefits.
Although investment in ILSMPs was initially designed to support improved conservation and environmental management by the increased involvement of Indigenous people, over time, it has been more frequently reported as being able to improve the wellbeing of Indigenous people, with growing evidence that ILSMPs generate co-benefits. “Co-benefits” are a diverse range of benefits that reach far and above those associated with the environment (e.g., health, pride, confidence, and capacity building), and can accrue to a wide and diverse range of stakeholders, including Indigenous people and funding bodies.
Importance of study:
Conservation and environmental management have been reported as offering opportunities to substantially improve the wellbeing of Indigenous people.
In this study, researchers used the recently reported wellbeing impact evaluation (W-IE) approach and interviewed 190 Indigenous Australians in four Indigenous land and sea management programs (ILSMPs)-engaged communities.
Wellbeing of Indigenous people is a wide holistic concept, strongly linked to ‘Country’. Land management is thus much more than ecological or environmental management and Indigenous land and sea management programs (ILSMPs) do also create a wide range of cultural and social benefits. Based on the results of this study, the researchers can conclude that ILSMPs have played a significant role in improving the wellbeing of study participants by positively changing some of the things most important to them.
The researchers also show how the participatory wellbeing approach used here can inform improved design of land management and similar programs to further increase social and cultural co-benefits.
- Different cultures conceptualise things differently; so it is important that Indigenous peoples have the opportunity to conceptualise their own wellbeing. By designing a method that prompts respondents themselves to create their own ‘wellbeing functions’ (sets of wellbeing factors that they perceived as the most important to them) we circumvent the issue of delimitation, that is, which types of changes are valued as important and by whom.
- Many Indigenous peoples view themselves as ‘a part of’ (rather than ‘apart from’) the natural world and reveal powerful ecological frameworks or ways of ‘knowing and doing’. Furthermore, human and nonhuman worlds exchange material, energy, and spirits, and the past and future characterise the present. Land, or ‘Country’, is central to the formation of identity in Australian Aboriginal people, where country is not seen as something separate from the self.
- Colonial displacement from traditional lands (‘country’) resulted in a loss of traditions and traditional culture, and is contributing to social and health problems of Indigenous Australians. The disruption to well established patterns of living, dispossession of land, marginalisation through various government acts and discrimination, has led to trauma.
- Re-establishing links to country, through both hands-on environmental works and contributions to its management (power over what works are done and how and how are these works selected and implemented) is seen as a potential opportunity for improving Indigenous wellbeing.