Learning about right-way partnerships at the ESA Biocultural Symposium

My favourite part of ESA in Fremantle  was going along to the Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge Symposium. It’s really exciting to hear from Indigenous rangers about all the great work they’ve been doing to care for country, and learning about the various ways that Indigenous Knowledge is being jointly applied with western science for natural resource management.

Talks this year covered various topics from finding the cause of Melaleuca dieback in Arnhem Land, monitoring of Kakarratul (Marsupial Moles) in the western deserts, right-way burning in the savannahs and western woodlands, and how Guugu Yimidhirr classify ecosystems based on their productivity. There were representatives from Birriliburu, Wunambal Gaambera, Bardi Jawi, Nyul Nyul, Ngadju, and others, and also an excellent keynote presentation from ethnobotanist Gerry Turpin who described biocultural knowledge and cross-cultural connections.

Scientists have a lot to gain from learning about the way that Indigenous peoples care for country and from appreciating the full scope of Indigenous knowledge. The presenters stressed that:

  • Indigenous biocultural knowledge encompasses people, language, culture, spirituality and relationship with the environment.
  • The biocultural knowledge of Indigenous Australians is broader and more sophisticated than the topics western science encapsulates.
  • Indigenous knowledge holders are scientists in their own right.

Many of the presenters touched on the ways to do “right-way research”. Being a researcher I found it extremely valuable to hear Indigenous perspectives on what ingredients make for good partnerships between researchers and Traditional Owner groups.

Some of my take home messages were:

  • Spend plenty of time in the community, have meetings and develop joint objectives with Traditional Owners.
  • Research projects need to align with local Indigenous priorities, and have value to the community (often beyond employment) to have support and longevity.
  • Research should acknowledge and complement the knowledge held by Traditional Owners.
  • Scientists need to be respectful of local protocols and seek guidance.
  • It’s important to go back to communities to share findings.

You can learn more about the presentations here:


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