In February 2014 a number of Indigenous groups and their research partners gathered in Sydney at the World Parks Congress to share their experiences of living with and managing invasive species. In partnership with the Bunuba Rangers, our research group contributed a presentation and report about the rangers’ place-based weed management at sites along the Fitzroy River in the central Kimberley. Alongside ours, each story that was shared as a part of this symposium has recently been collated into a booklet titled Indigenous People and Invasive Species: Perceptions, management, challenges and uses. The booklet is dominated by Australian cases, but includes contributions from Africa, New Zealand, the UK and India.
The symposium and booklet contribute to the growing emphasis on the human dimensions of invasive species and the unique interactions they have with Indigenous peoples. The booklet presents a diverse set of case studies, so diverse they seem too scattered to draw out any over-arching message about ‘Indigenous’ interactions with invasive species. Although this might be perceived to detract from its utility, it is actually its strength.
The booklet emphasises that there is no single story for how Indigenous people are affected by invasive species or about how they choose to respond to them. This is significant because it shows that context (cultural, environmental, historical and political) is the crucial mediator of interactions between invasive species and people. It highlights that there is no absolute or normative ‘best-practice’ that should be adopted for looking at invasive species or managing them.
This should strengthen Indigenous group’s claims to perceive, manage and use invasive species in their own way.
The significance of this grows when it is taken into the field of Indigenous weed management in Australia. From my experience, ‘best-practice’ and conventional wisdom (that is to say invasion ecology and mainstream environmental weed control) paralyse Indigenous groups from following their own management path. Therefore, while the booklet does not produce any prescriptive directions, it certainly shows that groups are having success following their own culturally-based and context-specific management alternatives.