Lessons in Climate Action from Birrigubba and Kamilaroi Woman, Linda Ryle

Linda Ryle is the Founder, Executive & Managing Director at CALM – Cultural Advocacy & Legal Mediation where she advocates for and with First Nations women. Linda is also a WELA Board Director.

Read this powerful address given by Linda at our 2022 Academics Workshop (in partnership with Griffith University) on Gubbi Gubbi and Jiniburra lands.

Waddamulli, Yaama Good Morning.

I am Linda. I am a First Nations Woman; I am a Birrigubba and Kamilaroi Mother. My recent family heritage is evidenced in the official colonial documentation dating back to 1845. Our family presence was first “officially” recorded in Kamilaroi Country (NSW), and more recently built upon by seven generations of family and cultural connection to the Whitsunday Coast North Queensland – Birrigubba Country.  My people, our many peoples, have, of course, enjoyed an undocumented (and challenged) existence for many thousands of years prior to being “accounted for” in the Eurocentric record books.

So, I have heard about this community of WELA Women and I am aware of some of the work being undertaken by a number of you. 

You are each very knowledgeable, capable, and busy women. Bearing responsibilities and traits very similar to too many of our gender. The title ‘Superwomen’ comes to mind.

Not only are you here to craft your devious plan to save the world…You have added just another deeply intense, and arguably perilous level of complexity to your mission: building leadership and influence for women.  Good on you. Go the girls! Doing what you do, you will know, of course, that 75% of unpaid labour across the world is undertaken by women. It is no wonder fewer of us are choosing to accept the unspoken matrimonial vows that include a 100% increase in our free labour and domestic duties the moment we cohabit and procreate.

Of course, the patriarchy wants to lock us out of their decision-making fiefdom – for goodness sake, who’s gonna cook dinner, do the laundry, look after the kids? And I fully appreciate that you will not be fooled by those women who want to retain their limited and favoured role within that same patriarchy.

Blessed be….This is learned behaviour. Inconsiderate, inequitable, economically unsound and unsustainable.

 

We First Peoples retain the role of the world’s first climate scientists; we continue to exist as the human element of the lands and waters that define our nations.

 

The year 1788 saw a system imposed upon these lands, which had not only threatened to eradicate the structures, values, and knowledge of First Nations civilisations domestically but also globally, and has gone on to put the very habitability of the entire planet in jeopardy. 

Under this introduced system, the impact of environmental degradation and climate change has had a disproportionate effect on First Nations peoples who have consistently been denied the voice, power, or opportunity to push back and insulate ourselves from such impacts. 

First Women are the First Mothers, the First Nurturers, the daughters of the Earth Mother and Sky Father.

We as First Women carry the knowledge, understanding, and humility of our Elders and Our Ancestors, those who secured our sustainable, continuing existence since time began, with the cultural methodology that has never since been replicated. 

This methodology is why we continue to be the oldest, original and continuing culture on the planet.

Our Women-specific Traditional Knowledge and responsibilities serve everyday to protect the fragile territories which are our homes. We are crucial to effective & holistic land and climate management.

Our commitment to our culture, Country, community and kin is similar only to the relationship between a birthing mother and her child – it sparks a protectiveness as fierce as life and death itself, a love without end, a deep connected consciousness informed by the endless promise of a continuing creation. A sacrificial willingness bigger than any one of us. 

We are every-when.

 

Our Women-specific Traditional Knowledge and responsibilities serve everyday to protect the fragile territories which are our homes. We are crucial to effective & holistic land and climate management.

 

We find ourselves today in a situation which contrasts so dramatically to that of the original order of our being  – a situation which has resulted from the historical, continuing and a systematic denial of inconvenient truths.

And we too, as First Women, continue to fall victim to the patriarchy. Although, not as often these days, are we publicly regarded as commodities to own, trade or use as tools of depraved sexual gratification, but the prevalence of disrespect, disregard, diminishment, demoralisation persists. 

In a policy context, these failings present as many government funded, on Country, sustainable homelands and ranger programs (and positions) continue to be developed around traditionally male tasks such as fire stick farming and the majority of feral animal management. 

When we are talking about work on Country, it is useful to note:

First Nations freehold, exclusive and non-exclusive Native Title land holdings in Australia cover 54% Australia’s land mass. Rating second at 44% are pastoral leases offered across the continent,  and the person – perhaps unsurprisingly – who holds the most land under the pastoral leases data (by far) is the WA mining magnate Gina Rinehart – she controls 9.2 mill hectares (1.2% of Australia’s land holdings under three different corporate entities). 

We need to do something about that.

It has been posited that for our women and girls, decarbonisation and decolonisation go hand in hand. However, I suggest that decolonisation is not pragmatic and is a term which is too loosely used, too often. Whether we like it or not – we are never going back to pre-colonial realities. 

Purposeful Deconstruction is required, a clear focus on the new world realities, dispensing with those mechanisms and modes of thinking that are no longer fit for purpose (irrespective of their source). A change in systems thinking and an enthusiasm for what works (again irrespective of its source) – is what is required.  This is a method requiring every opportunity and  full inclusion. 

First Women have never played second fiddle to Aboriginal men – the work of sustaining culture and community has always been equally divided – the roles, just different, by necessity.

The Matriarchal lines remain as strong as ever.

The transition to resilient, sustainable and circular green economies presents an unparalleled opportunity for our peoples. Renewable energy, particularly solar on our desert Country, will be a game changer (if managed with cultural due diligence) – we have seen some of this north west of here – the Woolooga solar farm in the South Burnett , also Wakka Wakka and Kabi Kabi Country. 

Increased attention is required to food security and the development of traditional community controlled food sources – the re-establishment of community Murnong (yam daisy) is a clear example (at least in Victoria) where it has been noted as  having been crucial to pre-colonial life in Australia – no glyphosate or heavy metal fertilisers required! 

The reinvigoration of natural fibres woven as replacements for chemical-based plastics and other problematic, nature threatening products has many life sustaining benefits for communities of both human and non humans – surely this is where our attention should be focussed.

Much has been written and said about the White Feminist role in silencing your Blak sisters. You must each take serious heed of those scripts and seek to apply a well-informed, culturally diligent lens over your initial presumptions, ideas and or perspectives.

 

The chosen Blak women advocate does not need to be everything in every context for you. They do not need to know everything about the Blak perspective on the topic at hand… You must understand and accept their cultural restrictions

 

I suspect my words are not as necessary here as they may be for some less-informed audiences – however, don’t let your education, knowledge, tenure or skill lead you down a path of comfortable complacency – it’s a fast and slippery slope to mediocracy. 

This work, this important work, your work here could just be the work that saves humanity. It  must be work you each undertake as a crucial component of the whole human you are. This is a commitment of passion and toil, where time is of the essence, the work of the worthy and perhaps humanity’s most crucial craft.

Unsurprisingly I will always advocate employing a Culturally Principled Approach to your inquiry, your problem solving and your initial approach to all of the above, as it will quite simply alter your project topography, spirit and solutions.

This will be new and culturally uninformed terrain for some – collectively, you must all contribute to a culturally and psychologically safe place for ignorance to be generously owned and knowing to be liberally shared.

The science is clear. Anthropogenic global heating is real. First Nations have been clear in our undertakings for a millennia. 

Thank you for the time you have afforded me this morning to share my thoughts. I am hopeful that I have spent your time well.

Lastly, I ask that you join me in continuing to undertake: tread lightly, listen deeply, respect unconditionally and remain forever grateful. I ask that you all commit to the same and keep front of mind that our continuing presence is afforded as a traditional discretion – not an obligation. 

Thank you,

Linda, Birrigubba and Kamilaroi woman.