Monday, October 1, 2012

First Day Down Under

Beach walk on our first day
After a verrrrrry long flight, we made it safe and sound to the land down under! We arrived at 6 in the morning after many hours in transit and were greeted by the first rains in 6 months!!  We sat eating our breakfast while the skies opened and rain poured down.  In a couple hours, the clouds had moved on and we set out to explore Darwin.  We spent the morning at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territories where there was an amazing display of aboriginal art, cool natural history gallery and interesting maritime museum with boats from all around.  Walking back towards our hotel we found this beautiful beach (picture above) where the lifeguard told us that it was safe to go swimming just watch out for the crocodiles and stinging jellyfish.  He assured us that the crocodiles mostly eat Americans and Germans - so we figure we're safe?! 

Wally and Ethel
Mona at the Women's Art Centre
Today we visited a Larrakia aboriginal community near Mandora (a 15 min ferry ride from Darwin).  It was great to get to see what an aboriginal community looks like here.  We met Ethel who is one of the traditional owners and elders in the community, who's 82 and had been out camping last weekend.  We also went to the Women's Centre where we meet the livley and lovely Mona who shared with us some of her beautiful artwork and stories.  Dave said it felt like he was visiting with his Granny!

We are getting used to the time difference, the heat, the sounds and the smells and are nearly ready to head off to the I-Tracker Forum tomorrow morning where there will be rangers (like our Guardian Watchmen) from all over Northern Australia.  Stay tuned, and when we next get an internet connection we'll post a blog and some more pictures.
Close call with crocodile

Visiting at the Women's Art Centre

Women's Centre from outside

Thursday, September 27, 2012

2nd Coastal Guardian Watchman Delegation to Share Resource Stewardship Experiences with Indigenous Rangers in northern Australia


David Leask (Metlakatla), Wally Webber (Nuxalk), and Claire Hutton (Coastal Stewardship Network ) leave tomorrow for Darwin, Australia to attend the Northern Australia Indigenous Land and Sea Alliance (NAILSMA) I-Tracker Forum. This is the second year that representatives from Coastal First Nations will participate in the Forum that brings together Indigenous land and sea managers and researchers to strengthen networks and share experiences in resource management and monitoring.

There will be over 50 indigenous rangers (similar to our Guardian Watchmen) from communities across Northern Australia at the I-Tracker Forum (, as well as an indigenous group from the Solomon Islands.  One of the keynote speakers is the founder and developer of CyberTracker, the basis for the CoastTracker used by Coastal First Nations to collect data in the field.   We are excited about the opportunities to learn from and share with other groups working to protect their traditional lands and waters. 
We are very appreciative of the support provided by NAILSMA and TNC to make this learning exchange possible.  Check back in to this blog to see photos and stories or 'like' our Facebook page

Monday, September 19, 2011

Thanks thanks and more thanks

We would like to acknowledge and thank the Traditional Owners for taking the time to explain their lands, seas, culture, language and “On Country” purpose. We want to thank all those who supported the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network trip to Australia, especially Rod Kennett for his commitment to include our team at the I-Tracker Forum and for taking us on a memorable tour on country. Thank you Micha for patiently finding time and energy to provide your expertise on CyberTracker and I-Tracker to Sandra amidst a busy conference schedule.  A very special thanks to Claire Hutton for organizing all of the logistics, including our presentations.

NAILSMA and The Nature Conservancy generously provided the funding for this trip – we are very grateful for their support, which allowed this amazing exchange of ideas, experiences and solidarity to happen.

We will be putting together a newsletter, report and powerpoint presentation on our insights, lessons learned and experiences - stay tuned.  You can see more photos from this trip here:

Photo Album of Australia Trip
Australia Delegation

Reflections from our Australia trip

Richard’s Reflections:

This trip was an awesome experience and something that will stay with me for a life time. The part that sticks out to me from our trip is how advanced this group of Australian Rangers are with the technology they use and the partnerships they have with other agencies. Their Department of Fisheries is a call away for them and when they're needed, the crew is on sight within hours. What I'm bringing back with me is that our Watchmen need to strengthen our relationships with the government. Throughout the trip my original nervousness disappeared - thank you Claire and Marven for believing in me to make my presentation to the group. Overall, this trip was a great experience with 2 great travel buddies, I now feel more comfortable speaking in front of people from all over the world. I loved the culture and how they have taken control of their lands and seas, now it is time we take control of our lands and seas and build our own government systems.

Ross’s Reflections:

Our 10 day trip to Australia was an honour and an adventure I won’t forget, with daily experiences and great discussions with the Rangers, NAILSMA staff and Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory.

We gave a powerpoint presentation on the Network, with me discussing the bigger picture in regards to the Network and the Great Bear Initiative, Sandra providing a technical overview of CoastTracker, our Regional Monitoring Strategy and support for the Guardian Watchman within the Network, and Richard describing the practical day-day activities of a Guardian Watchman from BC. Our presentation went well and the rangers and NAILSMA staff commented on the remarkable similarities between our programs, and the value in continuing to build relationships between our organizations.

Other thoughts based on my experiences :
•    The  ”On Country” moniker is equal to the Guardian Watchman “Eyes and Ears”. On country powerfully defines monitoring the lands and seas of Australia, and I saw the On Country commitment from both Rangers and NAILSMA. Listening to conference participants it reminded me of our Network meetings.
•    I realized that we  (CGWN) are on the fast track in how much progress we have made and have a lot to learn from NAILSMA who have been doing this type of work for longer and with far more resources.
•    NAILSMA appears to be similar to the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative. Both organizations:
  • represent a large geographic area with very diverse Aboriginal communities;
  • amalgamated to discuss and seek solutions to each Nation’s position on government and user-group pressures;
  • strategized to provide a united position (on those pressures); and
  • support the independence of each community/group.

I would suggest the GBI investigate possible relationships that can be built between similar organizations such as NAILSMA around the world to raise similar issues on a global scale. For example, a united position with First Nations/Aborigines declaring a right to have the authority to manage the lands, seas and resources within their respective territories/lands. 

Again, I would like to thank Rod for all of his work and the Traditional Owners of Northern Australia who shared their culture, language, and knowledge of the lands and seas. It was an amazing trip.

Sandra’s Reflections:

I was impressed by the immediate solidarity between Ross and Richard, representing Coastal First Nations guardian watchmen and the Aboriginal rangers. The audience was very moved watching Richard and Ross’s videos of traditional dances and song. My highlights/favourite moments:

•    The ease with which the Djelk rangers used their I-Trackers to monitor their country
•    Learning details of the CyberTracker software and community support for I-Tracker from Micha
•    Carefully timing our crossing of the East Alligator River to avoid the strong tidal influence. Following closely on the bumper of the Djelk ranger vehicle plowing through 1 m of water, two crocodiles watched us hoping for an error in judgement!
•    Molly and Richard exchanging sayings in their respective languages that captured the essence of their relationship to the land – “We are Nature’s knowledge” and “We are one heart”

Off to the red earth stone country

Heading off to the outback in our trusty land cruiser
The day following the I-Tracker Forum we loaded up the NAILSMA land cruiser (complete with a plug-in cooler unit) and traveled several hundred kilometers across Kakadu National Park to spend time in the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area (IPA) in central Northern Arnhem Land. This IPA, surrounding the town of Maningrida, is managed and monitored by the Djelk Rangers. The protected area covers 6,732 sq km of land and is managed by a team of over 30 male and female rangers. “Djelk” is a Gurrgoni (a central Arnhem Land language) word for “land” and “caring for the land”.

The end of the dry season in northern Australia means high temperatures and humidity (thank goodness our Land Cruiser had air conditioning!). The landscape across most of the area is flat eucalyptus and grass savannah – very different from coastal BC!  We passed along the edge of ‘stone country’, sacred land with lots of rock art. We passed through vast tidal floodplains with wetlands, mangrove forests and billabongs that are completely inundated and impassable during the wet season.

Warned that crocodiles could be found anywhere and everywhere – from the ocean to the smallest pond - there was no swimming for us (right Ross?).  We saw incredible birdlife and animals, including saltwater and freshwater crocodiles, dingos, Jabiru, egrets, gouldian finches, cockatoos and a spiny anteater!
Termite hills on the floodplain

We spent a day on country with two community elders, Molly and Stuart. We collected plants used to make soap, dyes and baskets, licked green ants to get a taste for their decongestant properties, plucked and ate mud mussels from the mangrove swamp, and fished for barramundi with hand lines from shore.

The next day we were out on patrol with the Djelk rangers – Richard got an opportunity to test drive the new ranger boat.  We used I-Tracker to record dangerous marine debris (a floating refrigerator!) and a set of prawn traps and a prawn boat from Indonesia. It was a great opportunity to talk about issues that concern them, such as the barramundi fishing boundary and sacred marine site protection, as well how they use I-Tracker to record enforcement issues.

Boat envy - Richard test driving Djelk's new boat

Our last day back to Darwin, we visited the museum in Kakadu National Park and went to Ubirr, a significant sacred site with many stone outcrops covered in rock art.  We were humbled to see several rock walls covered in layer upon layer of drawings - quite literally centuries of aboriginal people drawing on top of the faded drawings from their ancestors.  The drawings depicted many of the animals of importance in the area and were used to teach others about appropriate stewardship techniques and knowledge of the area.  We saw drawings on overhangs 50 feet above our heads that locals believe were put there by mimi spirits, so tall and thin that they were able to lift up rocks and paint them, then place them back down.   We climbed to the top of an outcrop and filled our hearts and spirits with the 360 degree view of the surrounding area.  A fitting end to our adventure!

Here are a few photos of this incredible trip - a picture is worth a thousand words:

Our trusty land cruiser!

Ross having fun in a billabong

Entrance to the Djelk Indigenous Protected Area

Stuart showing us some of the properties of the paper bark tree

Molly showing us how to use the palanus plant to make baskets

Mashed green ants - they knock your socks off and clear out your sinuses!

Quenching our thirst with paper bark

The roots of two plants used to dye the palanus materials

Starting fires - traditional burning for fire abatement

Lots to learn with Molly and Stuart

Cycad tree fruits

On the hunt for mud mussels in the mangrove swamp

Yum - what's blue and spiral shaped and has a chewy texture - mud mussels roasted on the fire

Our dinner - barramundi caught by ?? with a handline!

Traditional weaving using the palanus leaves and dyes

Group photo with Molly and Stuart and Five Cent (a spiny anteater that also dons the 5-cent coin)

Getting ready to go after the boat has been launched - I-Trackers turned on? check!

Alfie photographing marine debris

An exchange of gifts with the Djelk rangers - a Haida print

A jabiru

Eucalyptus and grass savannah

Travelling through stone (and termite) country

Twilight over the outback

Comradery abounds

Crossing the East Alligator River - treacherous waters, indeed!

Water's not too high, time to make a run for it

Can't say they didn't warn us

Waiting for human error ;)

A dingo poses for a photo

Long-necked turtle - rock art showing musculature of the animal

A happy camper

The landscape of the floodplain