Thank you very much for the invitation and for this opportunity.
I would like to start by saying that I fully support the comments made at a previous session by Ms. Aird and Ms. Redfern during their session with you on the 28th. I applaud the work that they and the Indigenous Heritage Circle are doing. It's not my intention today to overlap too much with what they have already articulated. Instead, I hope my comments will complement theirs.
I'd like to take this opportunity to focus on the subject of indigenous cultural heritage quite broadly. I tend to be a conceptual thinker. I may be taking you higher than you've gone in previous sessions, but that's just sort of where my head works.
I'd like to start by talking a little about the specificities or the characteristics of what we might call indigenous cultural heritage generally—absolutely respecting that each community will define and express that in their own way, but there are sufficient similarities in distinction to a western notion of cultural heritage that are identifiable.
I would start by saying that there is a general focus on the non-material, so it doesn't typically focus itself on material as built heritage. It often has to do with the performance of cultural practices on the land, so there's an interrelationship between cultural practices and land-based activities. Heritage is often an activity and enactment of land-based activities—for example, narratives and storytelling related to the land, and traditional knowledge associated with travel on the land. Language—the naming of people, the naming of places—is a very integral component to indigenous cultural heritage, as are clothing, tools, and cuisine, all interrelated with the expression of cultural heritage.
Other characteristics are that these are often quotidian sorts of practices rather than the exceptional or the ceremonial. They are that as well, but they are also daily. One of the other features is that they are fundamentally present-based, much more focused on being present-centred. We often think about heritage as about history and about things from our past. It is that as well, but it's a present-centred focus.
I wanted to set that up in distinction to what we are comfortably identifying as heritage practice. That is the identification, protection, and conservation of places of significance, and this activity is core to how we define ourselves through identity construction. It's a way of telling us and future generations something about ourselves and our history as a nation, as a culture, and as a people.
The apparatus that we have in place—not just us, it's the heritage apparatus—is born out of a particular trajectory, and is, in my opinion, ill-equipped to currently address the context of indigenous cultural heritage.
So in order to do that, I think the field generally needs to entertain some fundamental shifts in their thinking, shifts in their concept of what heritage is. One of those shifts, I would say, is scale. I think we need to start thinking from the individual to the broader. One way of doing that is to think about landscape. Landscape is a helpful lens to start to think about how elements are interconnected rather than in their singularity.
I think we need to start thinking about dynamic and living heritage rather than static, and to understand that cultural resiliency is often expressed through adaptation. That's another area in which the presentness of heritage is an important factor.
I think we also need to start to understand the intangible and the ephemeral, and how to somehow understand this relationship between practice and place, not just form and fabric alone but somehow this interconnection between those two things. We need to maybe think about perpetuation alongside conservation so it's not just the act of conserving but also perhaps a focus on perpetuation.
Again, as I mentioned, we need a shift more towards present-centred thinking rather than a focus on the past, and I think also a shift to subject from object. Built heritage is focused on the object. Of course, it understands the story associated with that place, but it starts with object and then moves out. I think maybe we need to think about starting with subject and moving towards object.
I raise that specifically in relation to issues of climate change. There is an effect of climate change that will be affecting cultural heritage and cultural practice profoundly. The change in the movement of herds—caribou, for example, where I am currently living—is a preoccupation. The loss of the movement of caribou, for example, will mean that the traditional knowledge associated with the typical patterns of that caribou herd will change. If there's a loss of language, that will be difficult to communicate. The elders who would have had time on the land as part of their upbringing are passing, so that knowledge is being lost. So there's a shift. There is a relationship between the climate change effects on the natural side of things as it affects the cultural side as well, and we need to keep that in our sights as well.
I think the accommodation of these shifts in thinking requires investment at the intersection of types of heritage. We need to start thinking about where heritage overlaps and how we can invest in understanding and accommodating that better. The current structure is that there's built over here, there's intangible over here, and there's natural over here, and so on and so forth. The full gamut of indigenous cultural heritage spans all of those and interconnects all of those. In order to accommodate it, we're going to have to start thinking about those intersections and overlaps.
We also need to start thinking about notions of cultural sustainability. When we use the word “sustainability”, we can't simply focus on environmental sustainability. Cultural sustainability is a big part of that, and what are those elements? They are the languages, the practices, the places, and the interconnection of those.
I realize that I'm probably not providing you with answers. What I'm really trying to do is encourage you to ask different questions. What are the needs of the communities? What role does heritage play in their well-being and in their prospering? Focus on how heritage is valued and why heritage is valued rather than what is valued, and conversely also the role it plays in cultural well-being and sustainability.
I would caution moving forward with amendments or changes to natural and conservation tools or legislation that entrench an existing paradigm—or at least bear in mind some of these other shifts in thinking.