Disaster Resilience and Climate Solutions stories

Staying connected, protecting the desert

Ngaanyatjarra Country

Indigenous Rangers play a critical role in protecting the environment and managing country. In most places where they operate, they manage threatened species, manage the land using cool burns and fire and control feral animals – alongside developing tourism and cultural heritage activities.

The Indigenous Desert Alliance (IDA) runs an annual conference to bring together ranger groups from across the remote Southern Deserts to build Indigenous-led networks, leadership confidence and capability, increase skills relevant to Ranger groups and build advocacy for Indigenous land management. These rangers collectively manage an area approximately the size of Victoria.

Due to travel restrictions, the 2020 Southern Desert Rangers Forum and their Annual Conference were held online. The $25,000 grant IDA received from FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities program, funded by the Baxter Charitable Foundation, was originally intended to assist with the transport costs to bring five emergent remote ranger groups to Warakurna for the Forum. Instead, IDA used the funds to set up dedicated studios in Perth to run the events, with full technical support. IDA also purchased video conferencing equipment to enable the remote teams to participate in the events.

Despite meeting over Zoom, there was active participation and over 150 people in attandance. Sessions included practical training components for rangers using GIS mapping software; co-design of education resources for weed eradication in the desert (developed in both Aboriginal language and in English); a presentation from the Threatened Species Commissioner; as well as open discussions around traditional knowledge of burning in the desert and implications for bushfires in populous coastal regions. Importantly, the highly-valued ‘Ranger to Ranger’ sessions still ran, where rangers develop and inform the priorities of the Indigenous Desert Alliance.

Emmanual Hondras, IDA Coordinator, said that there were unexpected outcomes from the online delivery, including greater engagement between participants, which he attributed to their increased comfort from being able to remain On Country.

“Despite many people thinking it couldn’t be done, we managed to ‘keep the desert connected’ during a pandemic and during travel restrictions. It was a landmark event for Indigenous desert rangers in regional and remote communities,” he said.