Spotlight: Lore of the Land - Joe Morrison

July 05, 2023 Nia Tero Season 3
Spotlight: Lore of the Land - Joe Morrison
Show Notes Transcript

Who are you? Where are you from? And who’s your mob? 

This new Seedcast Spotlight is coming from friends in Australia, and we love this opening question offered by Lore of the Land, because for Indigenous peoples, where you’re from and who your people are is at the center of stewarding the land we are connected to. 

Lore of the Land is a podcast produced by the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation. In this excerpt, host Sean Appoo (Birri Gubba and Kabi Kabi) interviews Joe Morrison (Dagoman and Torres Strait ancestry) of the Land and Sea Corporation, which helps Indigenous Australians to acquire and manage land and water rights.  

As Joe shares, the land title process in Australia is complicated by requirements to prove sustained connection to land, which has been broken by centuries of discrimination, assimilation, and other types of social and physical violence. Joe shares some of the hurdles related to the formal land title process, the effects of settler colonialism on Indigenous identity, and why it’s important to honor the elders who fought to hard so we could have a chance to be here, carrying forward their stories, knowledge, and important work of healing the planet. 

Special thanks to Joe Morrison for sharing your insights as well as a kind connection to the Lore of the Land team. Thanks also to host Sean Appoo of the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation and Sean Turtur with Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation for generously sharing this episode.  

Learn more:  

Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Spotlight: Lore of the Land - Joe Morrison

July 5, 2023

[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Hi, I'm Jessica Ramirez, and this is Seedcast

[theme music begins to play softly in the background]

Today we're honored to spotlight a podcast full of knowledge and solutions from Aboriginal peoples. It's called Lore of the Land: Nature reparations through an Indigenous lens. It's produced in Australia, and we'll share some of it with you today. 

Theme song by Mia Kami: There is hope, there is strength, there is power, there is change in you and I (you and I); in you and I. There is hope, there is strength, there is power, there is change in you and I, you and I…

The podcast, Lore Of The Land, that we're gonna share with you is produced by an organization called the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation. It's led by Indigenous Rangers, and they work with Indigenous Traditional Owners on carbon farming. Basically that means they connect Aboriginal communities who are taking care of their lands to organizations who want to offset their carbon pollution. Their goals are to build wealth for Aboriginal peoples, to address climate change, and to support Indigenous cultures. 

Lore of the Land is hosted by Sean Appo, who describes himself as a proud Murri man, descended from the Kabi Kabi and Birra Gubba Nations, with a bit of Danish and Sri Lankan thrown in. 

[00:01:25] Sean Appo: My name is Sean Appo from the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation. I'd like to start by paying my respects to the Yuin People, working and staying on their lands at the moment. And I'd like to thank them for letting me travel and work on their country for the last week and a half. 

[00:01:42] Jessica: And his guest on the episode we're sharing today is Joe Morrison. He's the Chief Executive Officer of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation, also known as ILSC. It's an organization that works to redress the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. They help Indigenous Australians to acquire and manage land and water rights. And Sean starts by asking Joe a very Aboriginal question: “What's your mob?” It's a way of asking who's your family, your tribal group, or your wider Aboriginal community.

 [00:02:17] Sean: Joe, do you wanna start by just telling us who you are, where you're from, and who's your mob? 

[00:02:22] Joe Morrison: Yeah, sure, thanks Sean! Well, I'm Joe Morrison. I come from, and I grew up on, Dagoman country in the Northern Territory. I also have connections into the Torres Strait—they're [Indigenous name] Peoples. But I grew up in a little town called Katherine, and spent most of my life there; still rooted in that place, and rooted to that country, that soil, and the importance of the country and the spear grass, and also the river and the springs that are abound in that country. So, that's where I come from. I'm now fortunately on the lands and waters of Wadawurrung People in Victoria. So I'm very blessed to have been on many Indigenous peoples’ country, and pretty happy being on Wadawurrung country at the moment. 

[00:03:20] Sean: Excellent. 

[00:03:21] Jessica: We're sharing part of Joe and Sean's conversation today, but if you want to geek out on the policy work that they do, I highly recommend listening to the entire episode, and you can find more interviews with Aboriginal voices on Lore Of The Land, wherever you get your podcasts. Special thanks to Joe Morrison, Sean Appo, and the Lore Of The Land and Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation teams for sharing this episode. Now, here we are with an excerpt from Lore of the Land, talking about native title, meaning, Aboriginal rights to land and waters.

Lore of the Land: Nature reparations through an Indigenous Lens – Joe Morrison: Group CEO of the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation

Originally released  March 30, 2023 

[theme music for Lore of the Land begins] This land is me. Rock, water, animal, tree. They are my song, my being is here, where I belong. This land owns me, from generations past to infinity...

[00:04:26] Sean: Well look, there's probably a lot of people who will listen to this who don't know a lot about native title. So given that you're actually going through it now, do you want to just give a brief summation of what that process has been like for your own mob?  

[00:004:40] Joe:  Yeah, sure, I'll give it a bit of a global context, because the job that I'm in is really important in that native title context too, because I came to this role after working 30 years in that sort of context around land rights, native title, you know, running the Northern Land Council. It's the largest land council in the country, and it's got a big native title practice but also, the ILSC was born out of the native title debate and argument. It was born because of the amendments that were put into the Native Title Act—particularly around the inability for some groups to prove their continuous connection. And so that's a very sad situation. But regardless, the ILSC has been established to assist, particularly, those groups that weren't able to meet those requirements. And so we've got all these hurdles that we've gotta run through, which is—in my mind—it's the story of native title because it's full of hurdles, it's full of challenges. 

Firstly, you've gotta prove connection to a place and you've gotta have continuous connection to that place. And so for us in Katherine, being dispossessed in—well, starting to be dispossessed in the late 1800s—it's a long, long time of dispossession, and other Aboriginal groups coming into town, sharing that country with them, having to go through massacres. And then, growing up in an era where we weren't told that you should espouse your Aboriginality. You've gotta fit in with the white people, who at the time when land rights was coming into the Northern Territory, there was a lot of opposition. And in the town that I grew up, there was a group called Rights for Whites that used to meet to walk through the streets of Katherine and oppose land claims, which they did in the case of the Gorge or what's now called Nitmiluk. And that sort of, you know, really set the scene for, I guess us lodging our native title claim. Obviously we couldn't go down the land rights route, because the land tenure was not claimable. So we went down the noted title route, and that was lodged 24 years ago. We've lost all but one of our senior old people. Notwithstanding that, we're still here and we're still practicing, and talking about it, and working through the process.  

Having to deal with questions of identity and authenticity are always difficult for people to deal with. When you've grown up in a society that hasn't been kind to Indigenous people and Indigenous identity, and having to go to school with a lot of kids, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that were not kind to those people who were saying that this was their country. You know, it was always gonna be a challenge. So native title's hard enough for groups that have remained strongly intact and connected to their country. And it's particularly difficult for those with a town or a city plumped in the middle of their country, and then having to be subservient to the culture of the Westerners, and having to put up with that day in, day out. So it's challenging to prove that, but it's also challenging to remain connected to your country and to prove that you've always performed your laws and customs as they were handed down through the generations, at a time when people did everything they could to stop you from getting access to your country. 

[00:08:22] Joe:  So, it's been a challenge and, you know, it's a good day today because not far from where I am, the Eastern Maar here in Victoria have just had their land determined by the full federal court. So, you know, there are small wins. There's obviously been some appalling losses and, you know, we talk about and turn to the Yorta Yorta case, which is ridiculous really, when you understand how Yorta Yorta now have moved on from all of that. And they're as strong an Indigenous group as anyone else that I've come across, but they didn't meet that continuous connection requirement. So native title is one that could either make groups, or it could destroy groups in my books. And we've seen, certainly, a lot of groups that have really struggled with it; particularly in and around big settlements and towns and cities and so forth. 

I mean, obviously, it was all Indigenous country and it was all owned and managed, prior to and during, the early period of settlement and colonization. How does that intersect with the national good, or the national discourse? And given we're having conversations about voice and treaty and truth, I think it's very timely to talk about the role of Indigenous country, and people who are on their country and managing their country, because I've always said that they're not there doing it for themself only. They're doing it for everyone. And we see that at the global level where you think about Indigenous people, the most special places left on the planet are places where Indigenous people have always managed those places. It's probably getting to a point where there needs to be some sort of national conversation and a gathering of Indigenous people involved in that space to start thinking about what the future might look like, and not leave it up to governments and their funding programs to determine what Indigenous self-agency or determination in that space might look like.  

[00:10:27] Sean: Well, you are not alone in saying things like that. I've heard that from a few people recently, so I think we should definitely try and put that at the top of our priority list to see if we can make that happen.  

[00:10:37] Joe:  Yeah. 

[00:10:38] Sean: I guess the other thing about—so, getting back to talking about the old people—so, I'm sure you and I share a very similar worldview in that like, we were brought up by our old people. We were taught a lot of our attitudes by our old people. Certainly recognize that I'm here standing on the shoulders of giants who sort of put me on the right path to be able to not just have a decent standard of living for myself, but to be able to make sure that I'm giving back to community, that I'm trying to provide other opportunities. And I see you as being in a very similar position. And you were saying that in your own native title experience, there's only one elder left who was there at the start of this process. 

What kind of role do you see yourself having in that sort of transition period of being the sort of a link between the old people and the new generations, and the new opportunities coming through?  

[00:11:44] Joe:  Yeah, no, I agree with you Sean, that I think, you know, we're all here because of old people, really, at the end of the day; the people that stood up and fought, but also the people that didn't survive, as well, and had an extremely difficult time when settlers first arrived. And, you know, I've always, wherever I've gone, sought out old people and made sure that they knew that I was there and paid respects to them. I think it's an art form and level of respect that unfortunately, is not in all of our meetings and gatherings. So I always try and pay respects to old people; just not saying it, but also actually doing it and going to see them. So that's really important, because old people were the people who had the knowledge—they had their connection, they had the stories, and they also had lived experiences and an ability to reflect on some of the things that have happened before but also to understand what some of the solutions might look like. And so when I talk about old people, I talk about them in that context as not just being static, but also constantly giving. And even after they're passed on, their memories are alive and their energy is always with us. So I think it's really important that when we talk about what we do in the future, we're doing it from that context of old people, and the things that they've given all of us, which I think are immense gifts to be able to speak about the sorts of things from their learnings, but also contextualize. So, for me, old people and the notion of elders is one that's pretty significant. And that leads to a broader sort of conversation in my mind, really, around the sort of disconnect between people and country. I talk about it a lot, and I find as I get older, I'm sort of talking about it more and more. And I could see that there are a lot of people that just don't get it, or probably don't want to get it.  

And recently I was at a national oceans gathering talking about that, and I could see that people are struggling with the concept of humanity being disconnected to nature. And so they talk about nature as being something that could be exploited all the time, and it's like, when is humanity going to learn its lesson that you just can't continually exploit things; that you've gotta live within that, you've gotta celebrate it, and you've gotta understand and respect things, and you've gotta have some, you know, customs and ability to be able to perform your connection to that. And so people, I think, don't really understand that. I think there's a lot of work that I need to do in that space, spending a lot of time in the last 30 years talking to people about ranger programs and carbon and the importance of that. But I think for me, it's now a bit of a new sort of journey of trying to reconnect people into the nature discourse so we don't talk about those two things as separate. Same in the nature reparations market that's being established here in Australia is saying to the minister, you can't talk about that as being something that's just gotta be fixed, and it couldn’t be fixed by anyone because Indigenous people have got a very unique connection to Australia's nature, and they gotta be embedded in it. And you just can't afford farmers or anyone else, as good as it sounds, to have the same level of connectivity to places as Indigenous people because it's just not appropriate. So, I think for me there's a lot of work to be done in that space. Sean.  

[00:15:31] Sean: Well, that brings us nicely onto the next question, which is about—so if we take it up to the very top level—what kind of policy recommendations would you make to the various levels of government to be able to enable some of the solutions that we've spoken about today? Trying to get more people, more mob, back on the country working in this space. 

[00:15:53] Joe:  My lesson is that you just can't do one thing and leave the policy work to someone else. We need Aboriginal people in Parliament House informing ministers about legislation and the policies that they're putting through. We need to be debating the public about the importance of this, that you can't not have fire, you've gotta have more fire, and as much as possible, for example. And you need to think about that in the context of determination and prosperity for people who are living at a local level. So there's a range of things that I've sort of learnt over the years that are really important to bring together. And I think having some Indigenous organizations with the ability and agency to be able to do that, and not be contextualized by what the governments think you should be doing. That could be just, you know, giving some ranger group a bit of support for fire management when in fact there's all this other stuff that needs to be done as well. So that's a bit, you know, it's probably a bit of a PhD thesis in some ways, but that's kind of my thinking, off the top of my head, in a snapshot. 

[00:17:01] Sean: Is that your pitch for a portfolio within the voice? 

[00:17:05] Joe:  Oh, not at all. I mean, I'm quite happy to sort of sit quiet these days. You know, there's lots of lessons, and there's lots of young emerging leaders that could come and contribute as well. But I do think that, you know, we should learn from the past. Aboriginal people talk about it all the time, and there's obviously space for that in the voice, and treaty negotiations as well.  

[00:17:29] Sean: Well, Joe, it's been an amazing conversation, and thanks for spending some time with us. Is there anything that you would like to add before we wrap up? 

[00:17:38] Joe:  No, just finally, I think people like yourself and Rowan and myself that have been around sort of doing this work, and I know we're all trying to find a little space for ourselves. Probably less so, me, I'm feeling like I'm pretty old. I just wanna get out of it to be honest, but know that I can't. So I think it's really important that organizations like [inaudible] and the Foundation—ABC Foundation—and those sorts of organizations continue, because longevity is a really important thing for Aboriginal people. When you keep changing things like governments do, it's becoming pretty disruptive. So, seeing faces that are familiar, having the trust, and also having people that are working at various levels like you guys are starting to do now. I think it's really important. We all make mistakes along the way, but I think if you're able to sort of, understand and manage those things and move on from them, I think it's really important. 

But at the end of the day, I think my key message is, you know, remain rooted in country and people. That's probably the most important thing for all of us. Don't let ourselves get disconnected from what goes on every day on country. It's really important that we have that, but we're also doing the important negotiations, policy advice, and all that sort of stuff as well.

[00:19:04] Sean: That sounds like a great place to end. So, Mr. Joe Morrison, thank you so much for your time today!  

[theme music begins] 

[00:19:09] Joe:  Thanks Sean and good luck!  

[00:19:10] Sean: Thanks mate!

[theme music plays] This land is mine. This land is me… 

This has been another episode of Law of the Land: Nature reparations through an Indigenous lens. My name is Sean Appo from the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation. This podcast is produced by Ely Corliss.

[theme music continues and fades out]