Issues Paper by tyndale


									The National Indigenous Knowledge
          Centre Project

An Issues Paper
February 2010

All responses may be made available to third parties where relevant.
In April 2008 over 1000 Australians gathered in Canberra to witness the Prime
Minister, the Honourable Kevin Rudd, open the Australia 2020 Summit. The Prime
Minister convened the Summit to address the challenges facing our country and
invited delegates from all walks of life and areas of expertise to exchange ideas and
develop options across several core areas identified by the Government. Options for
the future of Indigenous Australians was one such core area examined. Participants
in each policy area developed ideas and produced recommendations for shaping the
direction of Australia. The Government undertook to consider all recommendations
and to report back to the Australian people.

The Prime Minister released the Responding to Australia 2020 Summit Report on
April 22, 2009.     This report outlined the impact of the Summit on Government
initiatives and polices, and declared a commitment to several new initiatives
proposed by the Summit. This response acknowledged that Indigenous culture is a
critical part of Australia’s identity and that strengthening it is a core element in
sustaining a strong Indigenous community. The Government considered that the
celebration of Indigenous cultures will complement and contribute to its core
development policies for Indigenous Australians. Specifically, the Government
supported an examination of the concept of an Indigenous Knowledge Centre. This
concept was proposed not only by the Indigenous Stream at the Summit, but also by
the Sustainability and Creativity Streams.

The Indigenous Knowledge Centre Project
In his April 2009 response, the Prime Minister announced a feasibility study to
examine the concept of an Indigenous Knowledge Centre. This feasibility study will
engage with Indigenous communities and organisations, the wider Australian
community and with cultural institutions to seek their views on ways to strengthen
and support Indigenous culture and knowledge. A project headed by senior
Indigenous leader and academic, Dr. Jackie Huggins AM, has been established to
seek the views of Australians about ways to strengthen, support and promote
Indigenous cultures, to examine the world’s best practice for strengthening and
promoting Indigenous knowledge, and identify how those proposals relate to existing
institutions, services or practices.

An extensive information gathering and consultation program will be undertaken over
several months to inform the project. A public call for submissions will be made and
cultural and collecting institutions will be canvassed for their insights and opinions on
the potential roles for a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre. Indigenous leaders
and organisations will be similarly engaged and a range of Indigenous communities
will be consulted on country as to their aspirations for and requirements from such a

Extensive research will be conducted on national and international cultural
institutions and initiatives that deal with the management of Indigenous knowledge
and culture and organisations that act as national gathering places for the
celebration and discussion of Indigenous culture.
Informed by the national consultation program and the research findings into world’s
best practice cultural heritage initiatives, the project will prepare a report to
Government containing its findings and a range of options for consideration.

What is Indigenous Knowledge (IK)?

Indigenous Australian knowledge can be thought of as existing on at least two levels.
The first is the broad level of an Indigenous Australian “world-view”. While
Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, a general
Indigenous view of the world does exist amongst them which underpins Indigenous
Australian ways of knowing, learning and understanding.

This Indigenous world view, (which shares a great deal with Indigenous cultures in
other countries), is one born from an intimate connection to the natural world. A
complex set of philosophical, ecological and spiritual understandings grow from this
basis in nature. Indigenous world-views place enormous value on socially correct,
sustainable relationships between people, and between people and the natural world
(including animals, plant life, and the earth and seas). For many Indigenous peoples
this distinction is in fact a false one – people, animals, plant life, the earth and its
waters are all seen as interrelated aspects of one indivisible entity. Indigenous

        “…implies a high degree of holism, ability to see and understand things
        in their interconnectedness and interdependence…This is not just a linguistic
        nuance; it is very deep difference in the world outlook by indigenous and mainstream
        societies…I understand (IK) as the entirety of the intellectual and cultural heritage of
       a group of indigenous people that shapes their distinct identity, is preserved and
       developed through transmitting from generations to generations in their own distinct
       ways and is pertaining to and evolving in a distinct physical space…Ideas as an
       integral part of (IK) are closely tied to physical locations, and are inconceivable
       without a diversity of shapes and expressions.” (p1-2)

              “Traditional Indigenous Knowledge: local view” by Erjen Khamaganova, UN
              International Workshop on Traditional Knowledge, Panama City September
              2005, UN, Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs

Knowledge of how to build and maintain socially correct, sustainable relationships
(often referred to as Indigenous Law/lore) in this way forms the bulk of the broad
level of Indigenous Knowledge.

The second level of Indigenous Australian Knowledge is the technical level. This
level translates the Indigenous world-view into specific strategies such as:

      effective ecological management in accordance with ancient Indigenous
       science including watercourse management, fire regime management and
       extremely detailed biological knowledge of native plant, land animal and
       marine species,
      Indigenous medicine using long-established bush medicines and remedies,
      Indigenous astrology, which encapsulates knowledge of past solar and stellar
      Indigenous psychology, which traditionally nurtured young children
       unconditionally, and which welcomed young people into adulthood through
       established rites of passage, growing them into healthy adult members of
      Indigenous governance systems based on complex power-sharing
       arrangements which long predated Athenian democracy.
      Indigenous creative expression in art, dance, songs and language.

Indigenous knowledge formed the basis of life in Australia for many tens of
thousands of years. Modern Australia is increasingly seeing the value of Indigenous
knowledge, and seeking to incorporate it into areas of Western thought.

The importance of cultural heritage is also recognised internationally. The United
Nations Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage
( recognises the important role of
communities and organisations, in particular Indigenous communities, groups, and in
some cases individuals, play in producing, safeguarding, maintaining and re-creating
intangible cultural heritage, thus helping to enrich cultural diversity and human
creativity and contribute to sustainable development. The Government is currently
considering accession to this Convention.

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity ( stresses the
importance of, and the need to, promote cooperation to conserve biological diversity
and the sustainable use of its components and recognises the desirability of sharing
equitably the benefits from the use of traditional knowledge, innovations and
practices relevant to the conservation of biological diversity. Australia ratified this
Convention in 1993.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
( recognises that maintaining,
protecting and developing cultural heritage and customs, traditional knowledge and
traditional cultural expressions of Indigenous People is an important contribution to
the diversity and richness of civilisations and constitutes the common heritage of
humankind. On 3 April, 2008, the Prime Minister announced that Australia endorses
the Declaration.

The United Nations Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of
Cultural Expressions ( also recognises the
importance of traditional knowledge as a source of intangible and material wealth,
and in particular the knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples, and its positive
contribution to sustainable development, as well as the need for its adequate
protection and promotion. Australia acceded to this Convention in 2009.

What is an Indigenous Knowledge Centre?

The concept of an Indigenous Knowledge Centre (IKC) and the role it might play is
the subject of this feasibility study. But some existing knowledge centres provide a
starting point for what an IKC might look like.
An Indigenous knowledge centre could be somewhere that Indigenous cultural
knowledge is kept safe to pass on to future generations. An IKC could be a place
where Indigenous culture and knowledge is showcased to the wider community. An
IKC could be a repository for community knowledge, a place where knowledge can
grow, and a place for two-way cultural learning to occur.

There are some existing local IKCs in Australia, reflecting the unique histories and
cultures of the different Indigenous communities they serve. Many are situated in
remote communities managed by local co-ordinators. Queensland already has 18
such small IKCs spread throughout the state, including in the remote Torres Strait
Islands. These IKCs are active in promoting local Indigenous knowledge to a wide
range of participants, including school-age children, local community members of all
ages, and visitors to remote communities.

Remote communities in the Northern Territory are also serviced by a network of
Library and Knowledge Centres (LKCs), which under the “My Story” initiative are
introducing Aboriginal men, women and children to digital technology as well as to
more traditional library services. People from these very remote areas have been
given the opportunity to use modern technology to record and store their cultural
heritage in a variety of innovative ways.

      “The highlight of each LKC is its own Our Story database, which enables the
      community to establish a unique digital collection of local knowledge by
      creating, adding and repatriating content related to their own culture and
      history. Our Story uses the Ara Irititja software, developed specifically for
      Pitjantjatjara communities in Central Australia.

      Our Story enables community members to connect with their history in a
      simple and direct manner. It provides a measure of ownership over local
      historical and cultural records. It inspires a sense of pride and self worth in
      individuals. Young people particularly are learning how to use the database
      and developing the skills needed to manage it. It is bringing more people into
      the local library, where they can access a range of library services, designed
      to promote literacy and lifelong learning.

                                 “Our Stories” NT Library Services website

Use of the LKCs is strong and growing. In 2007 the Northern Territory centres were
the beneficiaries of a $US1m grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to
continue and expand their excellent progress.

Other Existing Centres for Collecting/Promoting Indigenous
Indigenous knowledge in the form of artworks, artefacts, photographs and film
archives, personal histories, literature, recorded ecological knowledge, bush
medicine and Indigenous philosophy is currently stored in a wide network of
Australian communities and organisations, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

These organisations include:

*The National Library in Canberra;

*The National Archive in Canberra;

*The Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in
Canberra, (which promotes research into Indigenous cultures, and has an extensive
collection of Indigenous materials, both material and intangible);

*The National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra;

* The National Gallery of Australia;

* The National Maritime Museum;

* State and Territory Archives, Libraries, and Galleries around Australia;

* Universities around Australia;

*Local Government institutions which sometimes hold material knowledge (eg in the
form of artefacts, artwork, and even human remains), especially in remote areas;

*A diverse range of Indigenous community organisations such as language centres
and keeping places which promote the maintenance of local Indigenous knowledge,
language and cultural artefacts;

*local Historical societies;

*some Church organisations;

*some local and regional press.

While there are many exceptions, the collection and preservation of Indigenous
cultural heritage materials such as artefacts is an area of strength for many such
organisations and communities.

Existing Gaps in Promoting Indigenous Knowledge
However, significant gaps in the collection, protection and promotion of Indigenous
knowledge exist in the following areas:


Recognition of the Scope of Existing Indigenous Knowledge
There are substantial bodies of Indigenous knowledge held by Indigenous
individuals, Indigenous communities and within Indigenous organisations that are not
generally recognised by Australian governments or by the wider community. By its
very nature some Indigenous knowledge is intangible. This can be difficult or even
impossible to “collect” or curate. And in some cases Indigenous knowledge is
restricted from public dissemination due to strict cultural protocols.

Partly because of these two factors – intangibility and/or deliberate restriction - much
indigenous knowledge has historically been overlooked by or invisible to Australian
society. However, a great deal of Indigenous knowledge – both tangible and
intangible - which could be made available to the public has simply never been
sought out or even acknowledged.

Australian Indigenous society has many outstanding teachers and elders, equivalent
to the “Living National Treasures” of Japan, who are repositories of enormous
amounts of intellectual and philosophical knowledge. Indigenous teachers and
elders, and other sources of untapped Indigenous knowledge, could be more fully
recognised and celebrated as part of Australia’s cultural and intellectual inheritance.
Their value to the nation, and to the world, could be preserved and honoured through
a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre.


Poor Dissemination and Lack of Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge to all

Most Australian communities and individuals have been deprived of good access to
Indigenous knowledge through the historic processes of colonisation and
assimilation. Because of these historical processes, the status and relevance of
Indigenous knowledge has rarely, if ever, been recognised by non-Indigenous
people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were historically regarded as
less intelligent, less educable, and less philosophically “advanced” than Europeans.
Men and women who held vast amounts of Indigenous knowledge were killed or
removed from their communities; artefacts, artworks, languages, dances, stories and
songs have at various times been removed, damaged, forbidden or destroyed.

The concept that Indigenous societies had developed complex and highly successful
systems of knowledge, allowing them to live in Australia sustainably for millennia, is
only now beginning to be recognised by outsiders. Indigenous psychology (eg
aspects of traditional conflict resolution and traditional childrearing), Indigenous
medicine, ecological management, fire regimes, and many other aspects of
Indigenous knowledge are increasingly being seen as valuable sources of
knowledge for broader society.

As well as non-Indigenous people being unaware of Indigenous knowledge, there
are also many Indigenous people in Australia today who do not know of, or who lack
access to, Indigenous knowledge about their own communities or even their own
families. These people often suffer from feelings of alienation and disconnection from
their own heritage, a state which has profound implications for Indigenous health

There remains a gap in the promotion of Indigenous knowledge as a valuable and
relevant part of Australia’s cultural heritage. This gap in knowledge is an artefact of
history; addressing it will form a critical part of reconciliation and in bringing
Indigenous knowledge to a position of prominence and respect within the nation.
This in turn will help achieve better outcomes in Indigenous health, education,
economic participation and social well-being as Indigenous people achieve better
recognition and validation from the wider Australian society.


Lack of Clear, Accessible Standards for Accessing Indigenous Knowledge

Sources of tangible Indigenous Knowledge are currently held by a wide range of
government and non-government organisations, as well as in communities spanning
the continent. Methods of gaining access to cultural heritage, genealogies, artefacts,
artworks, language resources and many other sources of Indigenous knowledge are
inconsistent between states and territories, and between levels of government.

Clear and accessible standards for accessing Indigenous knowledge would help
Indigenous communities access and share their knowledge. This would assist both
Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and communities. It would also help ensure
that protocols are culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive.


Lack of Co-ordination between Holding Organisations

A lack of co-ordination between organisations which hold Indigenous Knowledge (eg
museums, art galleries, universities, state libraries, schools, language centres,
keeping places etc) means that Indigenous people and communities often have
great difficulty in accessing their own sources of Indigenous knowledge. For
example, it was only when AIATSIS returned photographs to Cherbourg community
members in 2007, that one Cherbourg woman was able to see a photograph of her
own mother for the first time.

Indigenous Knowledge has not necessarily been deliberately withheld from
communities by holding organisations. However, the cultures and protocols of non-
Indigenous organisations have often acted in ways that mean Indigenous people
have had very limited access to Indigenous Knowledge that was removed from their
communities by archaeologists, anthropologists, filmmakers and other outsiders.
Often Indigenous people have not even been aware of what is stored in these
outside institutions, let alone been able to access or manage it effectively.

Information about what is stored in institutions and how it can be accessed by
Indigenous people would allow Indigenous people to start the process of retrieving
their own stories, photographs, languages, films, artefacts, and other forms of
Indigenous knowledge.


Lack of Ongoing Protection for Indigenous Knowledge

Because much Indigenous knowledge is held orally, and also because of the lower
life expectancy and higher death rates of Indigenous people, there is a great danger
that Indigenous knowledge will continue to be lost at an alarming rate. Languages,
songs, dances, artistic knowledge, philosophies and ecological/medical knowledge
are all stored in the minds of Indigenous teachers and Elders; each time these
Indigenous people pass away, there is a great danger that more precious Indigenous
knowledge is lost forever. The Government recently announced a National
Indigenous Languages Framework, including a proposal for a feasibility study into a
National Indigenous Languages Centre. How this fits with a National Indigenous
Knowledge Centre needs to be further explored.

The Report “Our Culture Our Future: A Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and
Intellectual Property Rights” written by Terri Janke in 1999, recommends that all
Indigenous cultural and intellectual property be protected through specific recognition
of Indigenous cultural ownership. This would include an ability to enforce prior
consent and to negotiate rights for suitable use. Whether promoting these rights and
protections could be a role for an IKC needs to be further explored.

Physical conditions in some Indigenous communities are also such that there are no
suitable storage spaces for artefacts, artworks, and film and photographic stock. This
means that some tangible Indigenous knowledge held by communities is at risk of
deterioration and loss. There is an urgent need to stem the loss of Indigenous
knowledge from local communities by recording and managing Indigenous
knowledge in culturally appropriate ways.


The Lack of an Internationally Recognised Entity Which Promotes Australian
Indigenous Knowledge

Because of the diverse nature of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures
across Australia, and the range of disparate entities which currently store Indigenous
knowledge, there is no one place where overseas visitors (or indeed Australians) can
go to learn and understand about Indigenous knowledge and culture. Some
overseas examples are organisations like Te Papa in Auckland, and the Museum of
the Native American in Washington. Similarly, throughout Australia, there are too few
recognised places where people can go to find out about local Indigenous
   Potential Roles of an IKC

   1. To promote Indigenous knowledge as an integral and valuable part of
      Australian culture, heritage and identity.

   2. To educate the wider community both nationally and internationally on the
      value and relevance of Indigenous knowledge.

   3. To promote world-class collaborative research into Indigenous knowledge.

   4. To partner with Indigenous communities and organisations in order to
      maximise Indigenous community participation in every aspect of the IKC.

   5. To provide appropriate access services for Indigenous communities and
      organisations to the gamut of Indigenous knowledge materials and
      information held in collecting institutions, repositories and all other relevant

   6. The promotion and development of Indigenous expertise in all aspects of the
      IKC’s operations;

   7. To manage, protect and promote the intellectual property rights relating to
      Indigenous knowledge.

There may be other roles which are not covered here.

Possible Models for an IKC

   1.     An IKC could be a central physical site where tangible Indigenous
          knowledge is stored and managed in partnership with Indigenous
          communities from across the nation. This physical site could also provide
          a world-class educational experience about Indigenous Knowledge for the
          general public, along the lines of Te Papa and the Museum of the Native

   2.     An IKC could be a computerised database of Indigenous knowledge
          sources. Communities from across the nation could access this database,
          using it as a portal to gain knowledge about and access to, materials held
          in other physical locations throughout Australia.

   3.     An IKC could be a combination of options One and Two. This might mean
          a central physical site holding and managing Indigenous knowledge in
          partnership with Indigenous communities across the nation. This physical
          site could also operate a database networked nationally so that
          communities could use it as a portal to gain knowledge about and access
          to materials held both at the IKC and in other locations.

   4.     An IKC could be a central physical site holding Indigenous knowledge in
          partnership with Indigenous communities, as well as smaller satellite sites
          in each State and Territory, providing easier physical access to Indigenous
          knowledge for Indigenous people. These satellites could potentially be
          located in existing institutions such as State Libraries or similar.

   5.     An IKC could be a network of small physical sites in regions throughout
          Australia, holding and showcasing local/regional Indigenous knowledge.

   6.     An IKC could be an extension of the role of an existing institution or

   7.     An IKC could be a linking up of existing small physical sites with an
          existing institution.

   There may also be possible IKC models which have not been covered here.

Questions for Discussion
* What is your opinion on the development of a National Indigenous Knowledge
Centre (IKC) to showcase Indigenous Australian culture and knowledge? What might
be the pros and cons of such a National centre?

* A National IKC could take many different forms – it could be in one physical
building, in a network of centres, or through the internet, or some combination of
these. How might your community interact with a National IKC? How could your
community be linked with each of these models? Do you have any other ideas for a

* What are your local priorities to do with Indigenous knowledge? (eg cultural
heritage; genealogies, return of photos and films etc held in other places; women’s
business, men’s business, young people, other)

* Is there anything similar to an IKC in your community already? What existing
knowledge resources do you have?

* What is special about your community and how could this influence a local IKC in
your area? For example are you on a tourist trail, or is there something unique about
your local environment (whale watching; unique environmental management skills
etc) that could be reflected in the focus of an IKC?

* What issues exist to do with giving both women and men appropriate access to an

* What protocol issues are there to consider about sharing Indigenous knowledge?
* do you have any ideas about the best way to catalogue and share virtual
(computerised) information from across Australia?

* Who are important organisations, companies or people in your area who might be
stakeholders/funding partners in an IKC? (eg local councils, private enterprise etc)

*What obstacles to an effective IKC can you anticipate in your area? Are there
possible solutions?

* What main role do you think a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre should have
and why?

*What model for a National Indigenous Knowledge Centre do you favour, and why?

Comments on this issues paper or responses to the questions provided can be made
by email to or by mail to:

National IKC Project
State Library of Queensland
PO Box 3488
South Brisbane, Qld 4101

Closing date for responses is April 30, 2010.

Any queries can be directed to the project on 07 3842 9087 or to the project by
surface mail at the address above.

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