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Workshop calls for greater inclusion of First Nations

Updated: Apr 3, 2023

Indigenous woman Emma Robertson used traditional skills to create this kelp water carrier as part of her Salt Water Country Collection exhibited in Hobart in conjunction with the 2023 International Seaweed Symposium.

The importance of Sea Country was the focus of an Indigenous workshop including 20 delegates from Australian and New Zealand First Nations communities during the International Seaweed Symposium held in Hobart.

They discussed sharing knowledge, building benefits for First Nations people, recognising ongoing custodianship of Sea Country and concerns over cultural resources.

First Nation representatives attending the workshop included Narungga Nations, Kaurna Nation, Waddawarung Nation, Ngāi Tahu, Te Wahipounamu (South Island New Zealand) and members of the Palawa community of Lutruwita /Tasmania.

Seaweed traditions

First Nations people have a long history of using and harvesting seaweeds for sustenance, domestic use and commercial benefits. For example, dried seaweeds have been traded with other clan groups and First Nations communities and seaweed has been used for stringing shell necklaces.

Andry Sculthorpe, who leads land and sea country programs for the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, explained how these programs support the development of Aboriginal community-based healthy country plans.

“Our community has a strong connection to sea country and through consultation on the tayaritja/Bass Strait Islands Sea Country project we are developing a management plan and have established a sea country ranger crew.” Andry says.

“By working with the community to tap into their deep knowledge, it allows us to establish how we can best care for our sea country.” – Andry Sculthorpe

A photo of 19 people in two rows, 13 people standing at the back and 6 kneeling in from
Participants of the First National workshop held as part of the 2023 International Seaweed Symposium in Hobart. Photo: FRDC

Sarah Wilcox, a Palawa community member, spoke about the changes the community has seen and the impacts this is having on cultural practices.

"Climate change has resulted in the loss of 95% of giant kelp forests around Lutruwita, and the invasive long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii) is also threatening our kelp beds. This is of real concern to our community as it threatens our cultural resources and practices.

“Bull kelp has been used by our community for thousands of years and continues to be used by our community. We know that it is also under threat from climate change, and we have a responsibility to care for it so that future generations can continue our cultural practices."

Representatives from the Ngāi Tahu community from Te Wahipounamu (South of New Zealand) attended and talked about their experience in developing a program to control invasive Japanese seaweed wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) in customary marine managed areas. Their control program empowers the Ngāi Tahu to practise their custodianship while directly benefitting the community.

Kitana Mansell from Tasmanian business Palawa Kipli, provided catering for the workshop. She gave a presentation about her experiences developing the first and only Tasmanian Aboriginal food business and her vision to provide delicious sustainable Aboriginal-inspired food to the masses.

A call for better inclusion

Zoe Cozens, the Sea Country Indigenous Protected Area Coordinator with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre says the workshop group has also made a list of recommendations for the next International Seaweed Symposium.

“The group created a list of recommendations which would help identify how future symposiums could be more respectful, inclusive and beneficial for First Nations People.” Zoe says.

“It’s clear that for too long First Nations have been excluded or exploited, so now it’s critical that the expansion of mariculture drives benefits for the First Nation communities, and their Sea Country which they have continued to care for thousands of years.”

The workshop was hosted by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre and supported by the International Seaweed Symposium organising committee, which was a collaboration between FRDC, Marine Bioproducts CRC and the University of Tasmania.


This article was originally published by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in its March 2023 e-news, and is republished here with permission with minor edits for style.

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