Spinifex, mulga and red sand in north-west South Australia,

History of the sector

This content forms part of our insights on the Indigenous land and sea management sector.

As a result of the Aboriginal Land Rights movement which began in the 1960s and later through Native Title and other legislation, Traditional Owners in Australia started to regain title over their land from the late 1970s. As rights and access to land was regained, Traditional Owners began seeking ways to support their aspirations to live on, work on and protect their land.

Concurrently, in the early 1990s the Australian Government turned attention to the development of a nationally comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas. With a growing and significant proportion of the Australian continent being returned to its Traditional Owners, the Government recognised a need for mechanisms to include Indigenous lands into the National Reserves System.

The Indigenous Protected Areas and Indigenous Rangers programs have evolved as the two key Australian Government programs for the support of Indigenous people working towards the protection of their land and sea estates.

Photo: Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Rangers undertake Warru (Black-footed Rock Wallaby) surveys in the rocky foothills of the Musgrave Ranges, South Australia. Photo: Jennifer McDonald

The Indigenous land and sea management sector has grown gradually, as more and more Traditional Owner groups have started their own Indigenous ranger programs. Depending on their interests, capacity and needs, they have sought support from a wide range of sources, including financial support from Governments and businesses, as well as resourcing and expertise from organisations working in research and applied natural resource management, such as private biodiversity conservation groups, natural resource management organisations, universities and individuals.

The sector has developed from the ground-up, and as a result of accommodating the differences between each individual ranger group and their support networks, is relatively structurally complex. These complexities can make the sector challenging to understand. The following information provides a generalised overview of the key organisation types involved in Indigenous land and sea management. Due to the generalised nature of this information, it is not possible to represent the situation of every Indigenous land and sea management ranger group, nor every organisation working within the Indigenous land and sea management sector.

Indigenous land and sea management is a vibrant, nationwide environment movement lead by Traditional Owners. At its best it gives Traditional Owners agency in their lives, provides culturally appropriate employment, builds communities on-country and works towards the protection of Australia’s incredible environmental and cultural heritage. It incorporates environmental protection with employment, education, health, culture and the arts.

This is great opportunity for philanthropists from all background interests to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and in turn support the protection of Australia’s precious environment.

The challenge now for philanthropists is to etch out their place in supporting this invaluable work.

Learn more about Indigenous land and sea management