Indigenous Australians own and occupy large tracts of land across northern Australia. They also make up a significant (and rapidly growing) proportion of the population. Consequently, land and sea management issues are (as they have always been) of paramount concern for many Aboriginal people in these regions.
In the past and through to the present, Indigenous groups have drawn on a sophisticated understanding of human/environmental relationships in order to successfully manage their vast land and sea estates. Sometimes referred to as Indigenous Knowledge (IK) this understanding is now, in some cases, seriously threatened.
In the context of mainstream Natural Resource Management (NRM) this situation has come about for a number of reasons. In many cases, non Indigenous researchers and policy makers have undervalued, or simply failed to grasp, the contributions IK continues to make to the maintenance of healthy country. Consequently, Aboriginal people have often been excluded from decision making processes which directly impact on their lives and livelihoods while long term investment in IK support programmes has been hard to find.
The IK project was devised in order to overcome some of these obstacles. Accordingly, the key objective will be to develop A Strategy for the Conservation and Application of Indigenous Knowledge across North Australia. This will be achieved through:
documenting the needs and aspirations of Traditional Owners with respect to the conservation of IK across north Australia;
identifying the constraints that impede the use, articulation and engagement of IK into broader NRM Research and Design;
developing an overview of what has been undertaken in Australia and Internationally and why it has succeeded or failed;
developing an overview of other relevant issues. (These will include Intellectual Property Rights, Information Technology requirements, communication needs, resourcing needs for on country activities and collaborations between Indigenous landowners and researchers);
providing practical tools for Traditional Owners to enable them to develop equitable working relationships with research and other agencies; and
communicating findings to ensure full exposure and investment in local and regional scale knowledge conservation in the immediate to short term.
The careful articulation of these issues and solutions represents core NAILSMA business. In many ways, Indigenous individuals and communities across nort Australia stand at a cross roads. Having won back a substantial part of the Indigenous estate, a second struggle now ensues: a quest to find appropriate support for Indigenous cultural natural resource management with a view to securing long term social, environmental and economic health and prosperity.
The Indigenous Knowledge Strategy is in the process of being finalised and will be published soon.