“Bama want to be fully involved in tourism to make sure our culture is presented with integrity and respect… and that benefits from tourism are shared with our people.” Traditional Owner workshop, Cairns 2004
Traditional Owners of the region strive to increase the economic opportunities for which natural resource management is a foundation. This is not restricted to working on Country through initiatives such as ranger teams, but includes industries such as tourism, forestry and fisheries.
Traditional Owners have long since identified tourism as an economic development opportunity, as well as a vehicle for cultural education and a means to gain recognition of their culture.
Over the past years many successful tourism enterprises have been established across the region, bringing a unique and special flavour to the visitor experience of the Wet Tropics.
A key aspiration of Traditional Owners is to actually own and operate tourism ventures themselves. There is concern about culturally-inappropriate interpretation of the cultural values of their Country by tourist operators and they are clear that Traditional Owners are the ones that should talk about their culture to tourists.
Other NRM-based industries in which Traditional Owners operate or aspire to operate include forestry/agroforestry, bush-tucker production, native tree nurseries, biodiscovery, seed collection and the production and marketing of artefacts and crafts made from timber and non-timber forest products.
However, there is limited awareness amongst Traditional Owners of the commercial opportunities provided by this range of industries, and there is the need for training in areas such as business setup and administration and marketing to underpin industry development initiatives.
Although there are substantial native title interests in the region, the level of land ownership for many Traditional Owners is currently minimal, and this means their participation in the agricultural industry is limited.
For that reason, Traditional Owners are seeking to set up joint commercial ventures of those parts of their Country within Protected Areas. However, currently legislation restricts the commercial use of resources in protected areas and this continues to be a barrier for Traditional Owner enterprise development.
Inspiring Traditional Owner Initiatives
There are some great examples of Traditional Owner groups pursuing successful businesses enterprises across the region, many of them with natural resources as the foundation.
These initiatives demonstrate the benefits Traditional Owners can bring to the management of our natural resources, but also the ways in which they can benefit – including through employment.