Daryl Lacey knows what it's like when environmental concerns and development come head to head.

Twenty years ago, Lacey's elders grew concerned about the impacts mining was having on their traditional territory.

"Employees of the mine ... were driving on our land, on sacred sites and where we didn't want them to go," he says.

Lacey is a member of the Yolngu people in Australia's Northern Territory.

"My people set up Dhimurru as an organization so nothing gets damaged." 

Dhimurru is one of 60 Indigenous Protected Areas established in partnership with the Australian government that cover more than 48 million hectares across Australia.

Patrick O'Leary, who works with Pew Charitable Trust, an organization that helps aboriginal groups manage the protected areas, says creating a protected area is a voluntary decision by the traditional land owners. 

"They don't cede the land to anyone," he says. "They don't give it to anyone, or lease it to anyone. They manage the land."

There is a keen interest in the success of Australian IPAs in the N.W.T., a territory rich in both ecological diversity and mineral resources. That's why a team of Australian experts, including Lacey and O'Leary, shared best practices and ideas in Yellowknife and Lutsel K'e last week.

Daryl lacey

The duties of rangers in the Dhimurru Indigenous Protected Area include removing debris from beaches such as discarded fishing nets and rescuing turtles that become entangled in the nets. (submitted by Daryl Lacey)

The Lutsel K'e Dene First Nation is currently negotiating with the federal and territorial governments to establish a protected area. Thaidene Nene  or "land of the ancestors"  is a proposed Canadian national park reserve that covers 33,000 square kilometres on the East Arm of Great Slave Lake.

"In Australia, like in Canada, in remote areas, you have a lot of unemployment, a lot of social disadvantage, but yet people are really motivated around the land. And they're good at managing — so the parallels are really strong," says O'Leary.

"Indigenous people can lead, they can be really successful — and they can create jobs and support their families in their local area."

Under an IPA agreement, traditional land owners enter into a contract with the Australian government to promote biodiversity and cultural resource conservation, and receive government funding in return.

But Lacey says IPA's deliver more than environmental and cultural benefits. Managing IPAs helps indigenous communities receive health education and employment benefits. Daryl Lacey says Dhimurru provides many jobs for his community, including his job as a senior indigenous park ranger.

"All the rangers are Yolngu people," he says. "There's about 13 rangers working, and in total there's about 20 people working at Dhimurru.

The Rangers also serve as role models in their communities, and their steady jobs provide further financial stability for their families. Indigenous rangers work with Indigenous and non-indigenous schools on environmental and cultural issues, passing on traditional knowledge to younger generations.

Some IPAs establish tourism businesses, and most of the government funding is spent locally, further promoting employment and local entrepreneurship

Lacey says the group from Australia has a lot to learn from northerners as well.

"I'm really keen to see how they live their lives, out on their homelands," he says. "To learn a little bit of their language, more community-based things ... more personal things."

The meetings come just a week before the World Parks Congress in Australia, which will feature programs and partnerships from around the world, including the Australian ranger/IPA model and Canadian indigenous protected area initiatives like Thaidene Nene.