Expert Working Group Report

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Acknowledgments 5

Key findings 6

Summary of recommendations 8

Introduction 1

History of Indigenous engagement with science 2

Indigenous knowledge and science— complementary systems 5

Indigenous languages—storehouses of knowledge 7

Language and Indigenous ecological knowledge 7

Aboriginal languages—economic value 8

Intergenerational learning—the importance of language to Indigenous knowledge 8

Changing cultural paradigms 9

Role and composition of the Expert Working Group 10

Recommendations 11

Theme 1. Indigenous knowledge systems 11

Theme 2. A National Indigenous Science Agenda 12

Theme 3. Indigenous priorities 14

Theme 4. Communication 15

Theme 5. Engage Indigenous young people in the sciences 17

Appendix 1 Expert Working Group composition 19

Appendix 2 Education through consultation, recognition and access 23

Consultation 24

Externally controlled consultation 25

Community-initiated consultation 25

Recognition of and respect for Indigenous knowledge 26

Commitment to Indigenous knowledge 27

Training in Indigenous knowledge 27

Employment opportunities for Indigenous people 28

Building understandings with Indigenous knowledge 29

Access 29

Awareness 30

Bridging 31

Support 32

Reaching out 32

Visits 33

Hosting 33

Support 34

Further reading 35


The Expert Working Group on Indigenous Engagement with Science would like to thank the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) as convener of this project and for providing professional and administrative support. We would also like to acknowledge the staff of the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia for research assistance and production of our scoping report, as well as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australian National University, Charles Darwin University, North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA), Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Madjulla Inc. for the generous availability of their staff and members in the conduct of this project.

Key findings

The Expert Working Group on Indigenous Engagement with Science recognises the urgency of increasing the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the development and communication of sciences in Australia. An important step in achieving this is understanding and valuing Indigenous knowledge systems, acknowledging the significant contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have already made to the development of science in Australia, and sharing this within the Indigenous community as well as with the scientific and broader Australian community.

In our preliminary scoping study of this area, the Expert Working Group agreed that the interaction between Indigenous Australians, science and the broader science community is lacking in many areas and from all sides. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have unique knowledge systems that can contribute to all fields of scientific endeavour, including science-based activities such as the management of Australia's natural resources. While it was evident to the Expert Working Group that Indigenous knowledge systems have contributed significantly to research in Australia in the past and continue to do so today, it was also evident that this contribution is not always acknowledged or valued appropriately as a 'scientific' contribution. While Indigenous knowledge systems contain a wealth of scientific information their development is often poorly resourced in Indigenous communities as well as in the wider community and the transfer of traditional knowledge and skills to future generations is critically threatened.

The major issue of maintaining Indigenous knowledge systems is not simply an issue of science engagement—it is an issue of national significance for all Australians. This Expert Working Group would like to emphasise the need for large, ongoing and systemic change to ensure the ongoing health of Indigenous knowledge systems.

While there was a degree of consultation and opportunity for public comment during the process of developing this report, it was strongly agreed by the members of the Expert Working Group that the interests of remote Indigenous communities would not be met by attempting a full and broad consultation within the time and resources available to the Group. Rather, it will be essential to undertake future, dedicated work to ensure that traditional knowledge holders and language speakers are able to participate in a meaningful way in augmenting and implementing the recommendations of this report.

Urgent action is therefore required across a range of initiative areas. The Expert Working Group considers these areas also present significant opportunities for government and industry to engage with Indigenous people in a way that will maximise the potential for increased productivity across a wide range of scientific activity. The most challenging recommendations refer to the urgent need to conserve and prevent further loss of Indigenous knowledge. Critical enabling actions will require urgent application of resources to: protecting Indigenous languages; recognition of knowledge holders by tertiary education institutions and industries; facilitating knowledge and skill sharing between researchers and communities; and providing opportunities for Indigenous knowledge to generate economic benefit for Indigenous communities while protecting Indigenous cultural interests.

The Expert Working Group has made 12 recommendations to strengthen Indigenous engagement in science. To be successful, the changes and actions recommended will need to be owned by both Indigenous communities and the broader scientific communities.

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