Image: US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Perth USAsia Centre)

The United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland has highlighted the need to include Indigenous knowledge in conservation efforts around the globe.

Speaking at a keynote address on climate change and land management on Tuesday, the US Secretary was joined by US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, at the event hosted by the Perth USAsia Centre and attended by key leaders from government, business, academia, and the broader community.

Secretary Haaland made history when she became the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. Her trip to Perth is the most senior visit by a US official to Western Australia in over a decade.

Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna and a 35th generation New Mexican, thanked Traditional Owners, the Whadjuk Noongar people, and acknowledged her department’s role in exterminating or assimilating Indigenous people, a painful history America and Australia share.

“Just as my ancestors cared for their lands, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have cared for the lands that sustains communities across this country,” Secretary Haaland said.

“For centuries, tribes have been excluded from the management of the ancestral homelands they were removed from. Together we are changing this reality.”

She emphasised that Indigenous-led conservation and co-stewardship partnerships were essential tools for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises and there were opportunities for Australia and the US to work as partners to find global solutions to tackle the climate challenge. 

“But using Indigenous Knowledge cannot happen in a vacuum. It requires a fundamental shift in how Indigenous communities are treated and how the tragic errors of our nation’s past are remedied.

“This work requires all of us. It requires that every country and leader learn from and build off the progress of others toward our shared goal. It requires listening and learning. It requires action.

The US Secretary of the Interior stressed the importance of Indigenous Knowledge and consultation with First Nations in policy discussions, governments around the world could better adapt public lands, natural resources, and wildlife management practices to the realities of a changing climate.

“The future that our children deserve is not out of reach, but we must act quickly to save it and we must do it together.”