Riverprize winners say collaboration is the key

Murray Mouth
The mouth of the Murray River.

Stronger relationships between Indigenous organisations and governments will lead to better environmental outcomes for river systems in Australia and around the world, say the winners of the 2015 Riverprize.

Flinders University academics Professor Daryle Rigney and Associate Professor Steve Hemming were a leading part of the team that accepted the award on behalf of the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority (NRA).

The Riverprize is Australia’s top award for effective and sustainable river basin management. It was awarded to the Murray River’s Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe (Caring as Country) Program for its long-term commitment to integrated river basin management, including Aboriginal involvement, equitable government relationships and international partnerships.

The NRA’s win was in partnership with the SA Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), and also includes Flinders University, Goyder Institute for Water Research, the Commonwealth Department of the Environment and the Australian Research Council.

Following the announcement in Brisbane, the pair delivered a keynote address emphasising the value and significance of the work that indigenous Nations are doing globally to restore the world’s river systems.

“We also argue that stronger recognition and more respectful partnerships need to be established between non-Indigenous governments and Indigenous Nations to enable more effective river restoration programs,” Associate Professor Hemming said.

“The NRA’s approach is centred on agreement-making and building the Ngarrindjeri capacity to take responsibility for caring for Ngarrindjeri lands, waters and all living things.”

Dr Deborah Nias, Chair of the Riverprize judging panel and CEO of the Murray-Darling Wetlands Working Group,said the Authority has demonstrated the effectiveness of integrated river basin management,with its commitment to collaboration a clear factor in the judges’ decision.

“Their leadership in the management of their country provides us with inspiration and hope for the future of the Murray River,” Dr Nias said.

The Ngarrindjeri Nation has had a close working relationship with Flinders University for well over a decade, with Professor Rigney and Associate Professor Hemming working on many research and community development projects with the NRA, including the development of the NRA itself.

Professor Rigney and Associate Professor Hemming were part of a Ngarrindjeri think tank that developed the ground-breaking Kungun Ngarrindjeri Yunnan Agreement strategy with the Alexandrina Council, an approach that led to a whole-of government agreement between the NRA and the SA Government in 2009.

That agreement paved the way to securing major funding from the Australian Government’s Department of Environment to support the developing Ngarrindjeri Yarluwar-Ruwe (Caring as Country) Program.

“The NRA has led the way in its partnership approach to bringing together Indigenous Nations, researchers, non-Indigenous communities and governments to tackle the challenge of preserving the health of the Murray-Darling Basin for the benefit of all Australians,” Professor Rigney said.

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