A cultural connection

Rene Woods grew up on the Murrumbidgee River in Hay, where he first learned the value of healthy waterways. Many years later, the Nari Nari man became the first Indigenous person to the appointed to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority board.

Mr Woods has been in the role since September, and said he’s learned a lot more in that time.His role consists of liaising with a variety of stakeholders in the Murray Darling Basin to ensure positive outcomes for First Nations groups.“I listened to the stories of the Elders, talking about how the river once looked and how country once looked when they were younger and what they had heard from their Elders,” Mr Woods said.But those lessons didn’t entirely hit home until Mr Woods’ community received access to water in the early 2000s, and he saw how it transformed their lives.“Having people on country – getting them back out there, they’re healthy and they’re strong.“When country looks good, people are good.“Having that access to land sparked my interest to see what more can be done.”Mr Woods said one of the most rewarding parts of his role is being able to communicate the needs of various First Nations groups with other non-government organisations and government authorities to provide better outcomes “across the board”.“I think my role within the board has improved the discussion from a First Nations point of view across other government departments, to make sure we’re at the forefront of discussions and that those are a part of project planning.“We all want great cultural and economic and environmental outcomes and that leads to healthy communities.”Working towards this “collaborative” effort also means communicating “two way knowledge” about the river systems from a First Nations perspective, and for other stakeholders.Mr Woods said the link between cultural and environmental water conservation for First Nations groups was unbreakable.“The cultural use involves environmental assets of water being totems. Highly regarded species are coming back in slow numbers, but they are coming back.“Mob are reconnecting with water systems through agreements with government and private property owners.”Mr Woods said First Nations people “want a seat at the table” in government negotiations so they can have a fairer say in maintaining their connections to the Basin.He acknowledged there is a need for First Nations women in water decision making roles too.“It allows the cultural appropriateness for First Nations lore for the women’s way and bringing that into a modern structural regime.”Mr Woods said his main goal would always be ensuring an Indigenous voice was always present in water negotiations.“It is about understanding First Nations interests and rights in the water space, so the Elders of the day can communicate their objectives in a modern water management framework.“The First Nations water sector is an emerging topic that I think all communities will benefit from.“If we have strong First Nations groups in the water space and they’re productive, the flow on effect in the wider community is going to be just great and hopefully we can all come together working on different projects.”