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Climate change impacts on our cultural values

Key points

  • For Aboriginal people, land, waters and natural resources are all part of Aboriginal culture and heritage (‘Country’).
  • Most Aboriginal people in NSW live in areas more likely to be affected by climate change, which increases the impacts on their cultural values and the ability of Aboriginal people to access and care for Country.
  • The NSW bushfires of 2019–20 destroyed vast areas of cultural value, including rock sites, and coastal erosion threatens Aboriginal shell middens and burial grounds.
  • Aboriginal people are being supported to access and care for Country and culture, and identify adaptation solutions to protect them. 

The importance of cultural values in NSW

NSW is Aboriginal land. For Aboriginal people, land, waters and natural resources are all part of Aboriginal culture and heritage (‘Country’).

Examples of Aboriginal culture and heritage in NSW are:

  • objects used for cultural activities, ceremonial or sacred areas that may feature carved trees, rock art or burial grounds, natural formations, areas of land and waters
  • objects used for past or current activities, such as cultural practices including fishing, hunting and gathering, traditional knowledge, medicine (from native species), language, dance, ceremony and stories
  • buildings or places where important historical events have previously or currently take place.

How cultural values are affected by climate change in NSW

Country is at the core of every Aboriginal person's identity and sense of belonging. It is the place from which Aboriginal language and culture is derived.

Climate change affects the ability of Aboriginal people to access and care for Country, practice culture, and establish and maintain relationships with family and communities. Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events impacting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people, landscapes, plants and animals important to Aboriginal people and causing damage to traditional sites. 

For example, most Aboriginal people in NSW live in areas more likely to be affected by climate change, with increases in heatwaves, droughts and floods.

Aboriginal people are more likely to be impacted by vector-borne and water-borne diseases, heat stress, and isolation during flooding. Health impacts are compounded by socioeconomic disadvantage

Coastal sites, such as shell middens and burial grounds, and being damaged because of coastal erosion. Also, the catastrophic bushfires in the spring and summer of 2019–20 caused extensive damage to large areas of Country, including rock art sites. Extensive areas of culturally important plants and animals were also lost during these fires.

Rivers and wetlands are critical for the wellbeing and identify of Aboriginal people as a source of drinking water, food, ceremony and traditional practices and healing. But droughts, pollution and unsustainable water extraction are causing rivers and wetlands to dry up and causing poor water quality. 

Adapting to changes in cultural values in NSW

Through specific projects and programs, the NSW Government supports Aboriginal people to access and care for culture and Country, and reduce the impacts of climate change. 

We are listening to Aboriginal communities and empowering them to:

  • continue their connection to Country
  • identify, value and protect tangible and intangible Aboriginal cultural values 
  • make decisions about how to plan for and take action in response to climate change impacts.   

We are also:

Finally, we are encouraging land, sea and water managers and urban planners to:

  • better incorporate cultural values and approaches into decision-making 
  • engage Traditional Owners, Aboriginal people, communities and organisations in decision-making through culturally appropriate engagement approaches.

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