Laura Baymarrwangga, senior traditional owner of Murrungga Island and one of the last remaining Yan-nhangu speakers, is setting a profound example for all of Australia.
In line with her local tradition, the 95 year old woman has created a series of projects to secure the future of her language and her people under a grassroots effort known as the Crocodile Islands Initiative (CII).
Through a series of sensible projects, the CII is striving “to enhance linkages between biological and linguistic diversity as a basis for sustainable culture based livelihoods, management of natural and cultural resources and wellbeing for future generations.” These projects include the Crocodile Islands Ranger (CIR) program which provides “coastal surveillance and bio-security” on the islands; the development of a Web-based Yan-nhangu Ecological Knowledge (YEK) DataBase; and a Yan-nhangu dictionary project for kids.
“We have initiated these projects using our own resources, and without government support, to show our commitment and foster leadership in the community,” says Dr. Bentley James, a cultural anthropologist who has been working with Baymarrwangga for the past twenty years.
Currently, the Crocodile Islands Rangers are defending the breeding and nesting sites of many endangered species and protecting some 250 sacred sites on the Crocodile Islands . As well, The Rangers are developing a database for schools, and they’re running a junior ranger program which is encouraging youths to get involved.
“The [CIR] program will provide sustainable livelihoods on country and opportunities for ongoing collaborative research,” says Dr James. “It aims to provide much-needed community and environmental services, such as removal of threatening crocodiles, weed and feral animal management and ocean rescue.” In time, the CIR will also take on the task of collaboratively managing fisheries and providing services to groups like the Ghost Nets program and the Australian Quarantine Inspection Service.
As for Baymarrwangga, well, she could probably run laps around most of us. Despite her advanced age, she continues to realize her vision, “to turn back the tide of assimilation” and breathe new life into her Yolngu homeland and that of all other Indigenous Peoples in Australia. That goes especially for the Northern Territory, where the federal government continues to pursue its own initiative, at the expense of the people.
Support the Crocodile Islands Initiative!
A new website, facebook page and twitter account have been launched to promote the CII and build momentum for the protection of Indigenous culture and language in Australia.
Several petitions have also been created:
1. Support the Crocodile Islands Ranger Program
2. Save Australia’s Indigenous Languages
3. Support Indigenous Homelands