Supporting Local Indigenous Communities

When accessing the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for your tourism operation, you are likely to be visiting the 'sea country' of one or more Traditional Owner groups. Each of these groups have continuing connections with the Great Barrier Reef and hold a range of deeply valued cultural, spiritual, economic and social heritage values for their land and sea country.

There are some special management arrangements that recognise the ongoing connection of Traditional Owners to their 'sea country' and their traditional activities in the Marine Park. Traditional Owners also have a native title right to conduct their traditional activities.

By following some easy first steps you can potentially enhance your operation and help local Indigenous communities. You may be able to receive appropriate cultural advice about the area, offer a new dimension in your tourism product, employ local Indigenous people, develop joint business ventures or collaborate in conservation activities.

Engaging with Traditional Owners may also be an opportunity for you to receive correct information and cultural stories for your interpretative programs and employ Indigenous people to deliver them. Surveys show that international visitors are very interested in learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as part of their overall experience.

You may also be able to assist in the assessment of a permit application by working with relevant Traditional Owners, discussing and exploring any issues and providing a joint analysis to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Responsible Reef Practices

Making a start

  • Learn about local Indigenous communities and their connections to the Marine Park and its surrounds.
  • Make sure that you talk to the appropriate people. For each area of 'sea country', it is the Traditional Owners who have the right to speak for that area. As a first step, contact the local Native Title Representative Body to help identify the correct people for you to meet.

In your operation

  • Explore ways that both your operation and Indigenous people can benefit from Indigenous connections to the Marine Park (both commercially and culturally).
  • Conduct your activities in culturally sensitive areas with appropriate permission, consideration, respect and preferably involvement of the Traditional Owners claimants.
  • Train your staff to respect and show sensitivity to Indigenous culture and heritage.
  • Employ local Indigenous staff and support them to develop tourism business management skills.
  • Ensure you have certificates of authenticity for any Indigenous arts and crafts sold from your business.

Interpreting Indigenous culture

  • Involve Traditional Owners in developing interpretive material, wherever possible. Only tell Indigenous stories with permission from Traditional Owners.
  • Explore ways for Indigenous interpretative material to be delivered by Indigenous people.
  • Advise your clients about the cultural significance of certain areas, if given permission to do so by the Traditional Owners.
  • Be aware that some cultural information is confidential within a Traditional Owner group. Make sure you check with the group and maybe confirm in writing, what information can be made public or included in educational material and what is confidential.

In meetings

  • Before seeking a meeting, take advice from the Native Title Representative Body, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's Indigenous Partnerships Group, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service or contacts in a particular Indigenous community.
  • Talk to the advisors about: why you want to meet, meeting timing and format, venues, seating arrangements, who should attend, how decisions are made in the community, gender matters, eye contact, literacy and communication levels, safety, transport, photos, record keeping and catering.
  • Try to use people from your business who are decision makers so that, if necessary, commitments can be made on the spot.
  • Aim for continuity in who meets with a community. As with any communication, relationships, understanding and trust are important ingredients to success.
  • At your first meeting, ask if there are any special protocols that you should follow during the meetings and explain any protocols that relate to your culture or business.
  • Provide a detailed, written description of your proposal, outlining your goals for both your business and the Traditional Owners, and clearly spelling out what would be required from them and what benefits they would receive in return.
  • Keep records of issues discussed.
  • Consider offering a familiarisation trip on your operation. Most Indigenous people have never been tourists so they may not understand the concepts you are presenting. A trip may help them understand your proposal, the way tourism works and how they might be involved.
  • Be flexible about decision-making processes and timeframes. Decisions in Indigenous communities are generally made differently to the business office - usually based on consensus and made outside of formal meetings.
  • Continue to keep the lines of communication open as a mark of respect, even after you have concluded a particular project.

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