Article

Indigenous Ecological Knowledge

In partnership with Indigenous communities working on country, the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is exploring the role of information management platforms in bridging the boundaries between traditional and contemporary Indigenous knowledge and western science.

Overview

The ALA’s Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) program of work recognises the essential nature of a collaborative approach, and aims to provide tools to enable and empower greater Indigenous participation in biodiversity information management and assessment, and to support other aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people related to ecological or biodiversity knowledge. For more information contact Rebecca Pirzl (rebecca.pirzl@csiro.au) or Stephanie von Gavel (stephanie.vongavel@csiro.au).

 

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website (and the links provided) may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs or printed material.

 

Yugul Mangi Rangers: Two-way biodiversity project

The Yugul Mangi Rangers in South-East Arnhem Land are working with Emilie Ens, an ecologist from Macquarie University, to document species and share traditional Aboriginal names and stories of plants and animals with other Australians. The project enters Western and Indigenous scientific knowledge into the ALA and provides a two-way Indigenous engagement case study to encourage more Indigenous content, and importantly feedback loops to make the ALA more relevant and useful for Indigenous people.

Olkola People: sharing knowledge and caring for country

The Olkola People of Cape York, CSIRO researchers, and the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) are working together; using the ALA and its Profiles tool to explore ways to share and utilise knowledge to help care for country. The project builds on past and current efforts of the Olkola people to record and secure their cultural resources, and understand the complex social, cultural and legal (especially Indigenous cultural and intellectual property) issues and risks to ensure robust decisions can be made about sharing their knowledge on public platforms such as the ALA. The aim is for Olkola to share these learnings with other communities.

Indigenous Seasonal Calendars

ALA is working with Emma Woodward (CSIRO – seasonal calendar work) to co-develop with a number of Indigenous communities, the ALA Seasonal Calendar platform. An early prototype can be found here.

Banbai nation people at Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area in northern New South Wales, are working with Michelle McKemey at the University of New England to develop fire and season calendars. The calendars represent annual seasonal changes as well as biocultural indicators that indicate the right, and wrong, time to burn. They are developed using results of ecological experiments, literature reviews, observations and cultural knowledge gathered through interviews. ALA is working with Michelle to see how the calendar can be incorporated into the ALA Seasonal Calendar platform. See the work of the Banbai here – Indigenous fire and seasons calendar.

The Tracks App

In 2017 the Central Land Council (CLC) obtained funding to develop a mobile app to support ranger groups in recording their tracking of bilbys and other small mammals, reptiles and pest animal species. The CLC partnered with the ALA to develop the app which was released in March 2018.  Initially The Tracks App will be used by ranger groups in the Northern Territory from the Tanami Desert to the South Australian border region, but it is anticipated that it will eventually be used by approximately 26 ranger groups throughout Australia’s sandy desert country.

Josephine Grant


Improving the relevance of the ALA website and software for Indigenous people

The ALA develops and improves its software and website through sprints (a concentrated software development work phase) and is undertaking work in response to feedback from Indigenous community users. Some of the work includes:

  • introduction of specific spatial layers into the ALA’s mapping and analysis tools – such as 2o16 Indigenous Protected Areas, Indigenous Land Use Agreement areas, Representative Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Body areas.
  • modifications to the Species Profiles app to upload multi-media files and to improve useability
  • addition of a tab and other modifications on ALA Species pages to enable Indigenous stories, Indigenous language names and multimedia to be displayed.
  • working with communities around how best to show language names within the ALA – see ALA IEK program – Language for an overview (e.g. Warlpiri (see Tracks App) and Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay). The following spreadsheet provides one format to add language names for species consistent with Darwin Core standards.
  • development of a prototype Indigenous seasonal calendar platform – https://calendars.ala.org.au.

Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property

The ALA worked with Terri Janke & Company to develop some Indigenous Knowledge Protocols for the ALA. It includes the concept of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) which incorporates all aspects of knowledge (science, plant and animal knowledge, stories, designs and symbols, ritual knowledge), cultural objects (arts, crafts, weapons, tools), performances (ceremonies, dance and song) and human remains and includes the secret and sacred.  As part of a broader review of the terms of use for the ALA – we are working out how best to implement the protocols, which includes guiding principles such as:

  • Respect
  • Involving Indigenous Stakeholders
  • Consultation
  • Informed Consent
  • Cultural Integrity
  • Confidentiality and Privacy
  • Attribution
  • Equitable Benefit Sharing
  • Recognition and Protection
  • Timely, Transparent and Respectful Process for Responding to Feedback.

ALA is working with Dr Jane Anderson from Local Contexts to scope out and potentially develop and implement Traditional Knowledge Labels (TK Labels) into various digital platforms within the ALA – e.g. seasonal calendars, Profiles – to support the ethical and equitable data sharing of ecological and environmental knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.  The intention is to also assess whether we need new TK Labels that will help identify and address Indigenous needs around the sharing of non-secret and non-confidential IEK.

Promoting IEK and digital platforms

A recent seminar held at AIATSIS in Canberra titled: Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Infrastructure Futures – Introducing Local Contexts and the Traditional Knowledge Labels, provided an overview of the Local Contexts work of Dr Jane Anderson from New York University together with the True Tracks ICIP protocols framework of Terri Janke from Terri Janke & Company, Lawyers and Consultants. This was in the context of a proposed collaboration between ALA, Jane Anderson and Terri Janke to work with interested communities and funders to test and integrate the TK labels in digital platforms. The presentations:


Stephanie von Gavel presented at the Northern Institute at Charles Darwin University (CDU) – on Indigenous Knowledge and Digital Platforms. The presentation provided an overview of the work of the ALA, and posed some questions around the role of digital infrastructures or platforms in how Indigenous knowledge is digitally captured, managed, and shared in the “information supply chain”.  A video of the presentation is available here. (note the sound quality is not very good).

Education Resources

ALA is being used in the classroom to celebrate traditional knowledge and culture.  Former teacher and CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Program Coordinator Geoff Guymer uses his experience in working in remote communities in the Northern Territory to give a classification activity a local Indigenous focus. 

Celebrating Indigenous Culture

Within our Indigenous Ecological Knowledge program of work, the Atlas of Living Australia works with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and in this blog we highlight their remarkable contributions as part of the 2018 NAIDOC week theme – Because of Her, We Can. 

Cherry Daniels inspiring women rangers and young people of east Arnhem Land

Cherry Daniels

Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners and Country

The Atlas of Living Australia acknowledges Australia’s Traditional Owners and pays respect to the past and present Elders of the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We honour and celebrate the spiritual, cultural and customary connections of Traditional Owners to country and the biodiversity that forms part of that country.