Sustainable Northern Landscapes and the Nexus with Indigenous Health: Healthy Country Healthy People

Sustainable Northern Landscapes and the Nexus with Indigenous Health: Healthy Country Healthy People Report

  • Author(s): Garnett, S., Sithole, B.
  • Published: 2007
  • Publisher: Australian Government Department of Land and Water

Abstract: The Healthy Country, Healthy People project has explored the relationship between landscape health and Aboriginal health in northern Australia. Aboriginal people worked with a transdisciplinary research team to test the assertion that investment in Indigenous Natural and Cultural Resource Management (ICNRM) benefits both people and the environment. The project was designed as a proof of concept and the results have been highly encouraging. People taking part in customary and contemporary land and sea management practices, particularly those living in traditional homelands, were much healthier, including lower rates of diabetes and lower risks of cardiovascular disease. The landscape where ICNRM is practised was also in better condition according to several measures of landscape health. However, the precursors of ecological decline are present and the ecological health of Indigenous lands may be short-lived without greater external support. This project set out to test whether there is: - a demonstrable link between continued Indigenous cultural and natural resource management (ICNRM) and biodiversity conservation - a significant association between participation in ICNRM and indicators of health and wellbeing. Aboriginal people actively involved in ICNRM were demonstrably healthier than those who weren’t. In particular they had low levels of the precursors of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. They also felt good about themselves because they were fulfilling cultural responsibilities, eating good traditional food and avoiding the social tensions of town life. The Aboriginal lands examined had fire regimes closer to what is believed to be a traditional fire regimes than nearby conservation areas and pastoral lands. This can be attributed partly to the lower fuel loads consisting of a wide range of perennial grasses. Elsewhere the grass layer was dominated by large annual species or weeds. In contrast, feral animals, particularly buffalo, were far more abundant on Aboriginal lands. Tools were developed that can assess ecosystem health at a landscape level. The research was designed as a proof of concept that investment in ICNRM has ancillary benefits for physical health. The results suggest investment can be justified, though the ideas need testing in other situations. There may also be educational, economic, employment, governance and judicial benefits as well as benefits for mental health. ICNRM can be seen as integrating concept across many policy domains. There is strong potential for active involvement in ICNRM to be added to the list of headline indicators of success in Indigenous policy. An ICNRM indicator could also be considered as an option to fulfil Indigenous aspirations for a cultural indicator. The research also supports the idea that State of Environment reporting should develop further its assessment of the level of engagement by Indigenous people in environmental reporting.

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Garnett, S., Sithole, B., 2007, Sustainable Northern Landscapes and the Nexus with Indigenous Health: Healthy Country Healthy People, Report, viewed 30 November 2023,

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