Spirit Bear Dreaming

Our Karajarri members have been hooking pink salmon and dodging grizzly bears on the traditional country of First Nations People in Canada.

The Ambooriny Burru Foundation proudly sponsored the Karajarri Healthy Country Study Tour to enable our members to investigate effective models of First Nations governance and land management. 

According to Mervyn Mullardy, one of six Traditional Owners to participate in the tour, ‘it really opened Karajarri eyes,’ particularly in relation to First Nations management of commercial activities on country.  

The first stop on the tour was Klemtu, a community run by two tribes, the Kitasoo and Xai'xais. Balanced on the edge of a somber, frosty waterway and ringed with mountains, it’s a lucrative place for industry, with fishermen, loggers and tourists all vying for use of country.

But the First Nations people of the area have strict management structures in place, meaning tourism and commercial fishing operations can only happen at certain times of the year and any logging is monitored and undertaken alongside rehabilitation programs.

“The community has struck a commercial balance between controlling development and protecting the environment,” Mervyn said. 

“We stayed in the tourist lodge at Klemtu, which is fully owned by the First Nations people. The community generates money by getting tourists involved, teaching them to be aware of country and of the stories for their area.” 

Money earned from commercial operations flows back into programs like the Coastal Guardian Watchmen Network, which is the equivalent of the Kimberley Ranger Network.

Our Karajarri members were impressed to see effective models of Indigenous economic development. Equally impressed were their First Nations hosts, especially when watching the Karajarri Traditional Owners dance in Klemtu’s Big House.

“They had a cultural shock, I think, seeing us performing there, seeing Indigenous people dancing, from the other side of the world. Their traditional songs were also really powerful and they spoke of how they felt connected with us, with our dreaming and their stories coming together from other sides of the world. They felt so proud that we’d come all the way from Australia to meet them,” Mervyn said.

One of the stories the Kitasoo shared was about the creation and symbolism of the Spirit Bear, but despite searching for it with the Karajarri Traditional Owners, the bear remained elusive.

They also visited the Heiltsuk Nation and the Metlakatla Nation. Joining the exchange, were people from the Lutsel K'e Dene Nation in the Northwest Territories.

“This other mob that was tagging along, an old lady chief and two young girls, they cried for us when we left. They wanted us to come back again and visit their Nation, further north in the mountains,” Mervyn said.

The experience lived up to expectations as both a cultural and a learning exchange.

“Reading books and videos is alright, but actually going there, being there, is really another level. I’d like to thank KRED for supporting us.”

Through the Ambooriny Burru Foundation we’re committed to realising the educational aspirations of our members. All surplus income from KRED’s activities goes back into Ambooriny Burru for the benefit of all our members. Members’ priorities include law and culture, land management, education, scholarships and economic development opportunities that support the wellbeing of our people.