As most people should know, over at least the last 50,000 years, hundreds of Aboriginal Australian clan groups have accumulated a wealth of knowledge about Australian ecology and the effects of anthropogenic and ‘natural’ environmental change. This knowledge was accumulated through an intimate reliance on the environment and observations about change which lead to predictions and theories about their Country.
This knowledge was and still is embedded in Aboriginal culture and everyday life:coded in language, place names, cultural practice and Aboriginal Law ------making it bio-cultural knowledge. Gerry Turpin, manager of the Indigenous Tropical Ethnobotany Centre in cairns and IBCK WG member describes Bio-cultural knowledge as that which encompasses people, language & culture and their relationship to the environment
Rock paintings might show past occurrence of now extinct species, such like the thylacine in northern Australia or the landing of foreign boats which would have accompanied stories about these observations.Oral and cultural knowledge coding and communication clearly differs to many other cultures, such as our own, which has relied to a large extent on written knowledge to build more knowledge.Therefore unique Aboriginal knowledge is something that we should value has providing a unique pre-historical record of our country.
However, as most people are also aware, since European colonisation of Australia, the intergenerational transfer of knowledge and customary Aboriginal ways of life have been severely disrupted. Across much of Australia, Aboriginal people have been left disenfranchised with what can be described as a state of post traumatic stress. And this has left many Aboriginal people experiencing desperate struggles to maintain knowledge, their identity and their unique culture. A culture which is believed to be the longest living culture outside of Africa. Historical threats of assimilation, indoctrination and dislocation through socio-political means have now also been added to by threats from technology such as tv and video games which pull young people away from their traditional culture.
Although we note that technologies are now being harnessed by many communities to promote cultural learning…with the national NITV broadcast one of the most significant recent developments.
Thankfully, since earlier policies of assimilation, we have seen significant progress in the recognition of Aboriginal rights and an appreciation for the value and uniqueness of Aboriginal knowledge, culture and history...although we still have a long way to go. Since the 1970’s and the land rights movement, manyAboriginal natural and cultural resource management groups have been formed by communitiesto regain control over their ancestral lands, maintain customary responsibilities as well as a form of employment and income.This self determination of Aboriginal communities and individuals in natural and cultural resource management is the foundation for what is now the fastest growing sector of the Australian conservation agenda. And according to the federal government website, Aboriginal land holders have made the single greatest contribution to the NRS.
Since the 1990’s community based INCRM initiatives have gained increasing support from non-government and government initiatives such as the Indigenous Protected Area and Working on Country programs. 660 Aboriginal rangers are employed across the country 50 IPAs declared with many more in consultationAnd Native Title covers over 23% of the country...Directives in EPBC Act, Caring for our Country fundingIndigenous Advisory Board for EPBC ActA number of Gov support packages through environmental and cultural heritage portfolios...However, only 3% of government conservation spending is on INCRM. Many INCRM are still working through management plans and trying to find and acceptable mix on Indigenous and Western knowledge to manage country that will meet the objectives of funding bodies as well as the Aboriginal communities they serve.
So, it is clear that from successes in Native Title and increasing Aboriginal land ownership, advances in technology and raised awareness of Aboriginal social justice issues we are experiencing a a critical mass in INCRM which is offering substantial opportunity for Aboriginal bio-cultural knowledge to once again be valued on a national level. However perhaps the most progress needed is for non-Indigenous Australians need to recognise that we are being offered an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past and respectfully engage with Aboriginal people for enhanced management of Australia. Aboriginal people are legal custodians of some of the most pristine country in Australia – rich in natural and cultural resources. Aboriginal people want to work with non-Indigenous Australians to protect this land, better understand the values and threats and work together to find sustainable solutions that will deliver both socio-economic and environmental benefits. By combining Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge perhaps we can do a better job of managing our environment so we don’t end up with more situations like we have in the Murray Darling Basin. In the MDB, we are witnessing first hand the interconnectedness between environmental and social justiceEcologists around the world are increasingly recognising the tight links between society, environmental conservation and ecological resilience. These sentiments are reflected in Environmental policies and long-term ecological research agendas around the world. Importantly, these are the principles also underlying much of Indigenous knowledge – how to live on Country without destroying the very resources from which we depend.
All this seems logical to me...so why don’t we see lots of Aboriginal people here? At our conferences, in Universities, making policy about the environment?Ok they do only make up only 2% of teh population, but they are legal guardians of over 20% of the country! Obviously there are significant challenges to be overcome here...from both sides. Some of the challenges include:the fragmented and in some areas severely threatened Aboriginal bio-cultural knowledges access and Intellectual Property issues conflicted by past misuse and misappropriation of knowledge the paucity of resources such as time, money and capacity to respectfully engage in an effective cross-cultural manner and the persistent lack of awareness of Aboriginal knowledge systems, their value to broader society and preferred Aboriginal ways of working.
Through TERN and specifically through ACEAS, and the support of Alison Specht, we have been given an opportunity to bring together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people with experience working in the Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge space to try and raise awareness of some of these issues and elucidate possible pathways that people can take to more effectively and more informatively engage in Indigenous bio-cultural projects.What we are aiming to do is….And we want to do this to try and enhance …..There is a lot of information out there and a lot of people working hard on the ground to nut some of these issues out, however often blindfolded, with little awareness of or few resources to draw on to enhance the two-way development of projects that have shared goals. What the ACEAS IBCK WG is working on is basically Australia’s first spatial and temporal analysis of the publically available material (including written and audio-visual). This will be displayed as an interactive map through an ACEAS website so that people can go to the area they work in to see what other people have done before them.
This is a preliminary snapshot of our map Still to consult: Land CouncilsAIATSISBeth Gott’s database of historical info , particulalry for SE AusFirst get protocols and draft discussion paper agreed on by current ACEAS WG then send out for comment and input
As much of Indigenous bio-cultural has not been documented and some still exists as living knowledge, we are also working on two case studies that show the potential for more collaboration and support. The first is a case study of WG member Gerry TurpinsIndigeous Tropical Ethnobotany centre on Cairns. ITEC is the only Ethnobotany Centre in Australia and is driven by Gerry who is a Barbaram Traditional Owner. This spider map here shows the reach of Gerry’s centre, for which he is the only staff member! So far. We think this analysis demonstrates widespread desire for his services and clear opportunities for collaboration and financial support!The other case study we are working on is a map of regions in western Arnhem Land where knowledge exists largely as living knowledge held by Traditional Owners. This case study is being driven by Emmanuel Namarnyilk, a young TO of the region who has been working with me and the ACEAS WG. Our IBCK working group has meet once in Cairns to develop this project and we are currently in our data gathering and research stage working on our reference list, map and a discussion paper. Once we have our preliminary info in place, we will distribute this out to as many people we can for comment, input and of course scrutiny. We will meet in April to pool all the feedback and work on our final products.
This project is clearly in line with the overarching aims of TERN: …As such we also see a need for greater involvement of Indigenous people and knowledge in TERN as a whole. The limited engagement of TERM with Indigenous Australia to date is a huge omission in the overall agenda, which typifies the institutional challenges faced by Indigenous scientists and land owners Australia. If TERN truly aspires to contribute to effective management and sustainable use of our ecosystems, there must be a greater Indigenous focus whether it be a specific strand or more adequately integrated into existing TERN facilities.
TERN has been critical to pulling this working group together and we hope we can demonstrate the potential benefits of further Indigenous engagement following the completion of our WG. Our IBCK collation is inherently multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural which invokes much political debate and indeed criticism particularly about the appropriation of IBCK, the diversity of knowledegs and potential failure to adequately present issues and previous work on a national scale. Without a nationally recognised organisation like TERN and the high calibre participants in the whole network, we may not have had the pull power to bring in the people we have so far, and hope to in the future. The format of ACEAS funding is particularly useful to a group like this as it was flexible, well organised and enabled us to meet over few days, get to know each other (as most of us had never worked or met eachother before), thrash out issues, and design outputs that we thought we be of most use to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people from around Australia.
So i guess at this point all i can is we need to do more! We have a chapter coming out in the MSPN book for some preliminary info on the cultural imperatives to long term ecological research in Australia and we hope to have our draft ACEAS WG products out soon for comment if you are interested, let me know!Thanks to ACEAS, Alison, all the IBCK WG members and the TOs i work with in Arnhem Land who have taught me a great deal about Indigenous knowledge and that there are indeed other knowledge systems out there that should be respected and used more in the management of Australia’s unique natural and cultural resources!!
Emilie Ens_Progress, challenges and opportunities in the incorporation of Indigenous biocultural knowledge into Australian ecosystem management and policy
Aboriginal bio-cultural knowledgein Australian ecosystem management and policy:Progress, challenges and opportunities through TERN Dr Emilie Ens ARC Discovery Early Career Research Fellow Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research The Australian National University and the ACEAS Indigenous Bio-cultural Knowledge Working Group 1 Beth Gott, Gerry Turpin, Emmanuel Namarnyilk, Bruce Doran, Petina Pert, Joanne Packer, Jitendra Gaikwad and Tina Bain
Challenges to sustained support and development of collaborations• Depletion of some Aboriginal knowledge• Lack of broad awareness of Aboriginal knowledge• IP and access issues• Conflicting priorities of some Indigenous and non- Indigenous people• Paucity of resources for effective cross-cultural engagement• Institutional barriers
Progress – through TERN and ACEAS 1. Chapter in upcoming LTERN/MSPN book – The cultural imperative: broadening the vision of long-term ecological monitoring to enhance environmental policy and management outcomes Emilie Ens, Emma Burns, Jeremy Russell-Smith, Ben Sparrow and Glenda Wardle 2. ACEAS Indigenous Bio-cultural Knowledge Working Group Aims: To collate, analyse and raise awareness of collaborativebio-cultural knowledge projects across Australia and promote best practice methods
Progress – through TERN and ACEAS Why?To promote two-way learning, research and action between Indigenous and non-Indigenous ecologists, land managers and policy makers How?1. Spatial & temporal analysis of publically available material 2. Discussion paper 3. Interactive website
Emmanuel Namarnyilk and Gerry Turpin Living knowledgecase studies
Meetings TERN’ objectives• To connect ecosystem scientists and enable them to collect, contribute, store, share and integrate data across disciplines• To increase the capacity of the Australian ecosystem science community to advance science and contribute to effective management and sustainable use of our ecosystems
Benefits of ACEAS for INCRM and IBCK• Flexible• Organised• Supportive of multi-disciplinary and cross-cultural work
We need to do more!Summary:• Unique culture linked to deep ecological knowledge• Fastest growing conservation sector• 23 % of Aus Indigenous owned• 2 % of the population• 3 % of conservation $• ? % TERN• National approach to building socio-ecological resilience
Thanks!• ACEAS IBCK WG 1 members – Beth Gott, Gerry Turpin, Emmanuel Namarnyilk, Bruce Doran, Petina Pert, Jo Packer, Jitendra Gaikwad and Tina Bain• The ACEAS team especially Alison Specht• Co-authors of “The Cultural imperative” chapter in upcoming MSPN book – Emma Burns, Glenda Wardle, Jeremy Russell- Smith and Ben Sparrow• All my Aboriginal colleagues, especially in Arnhem Land