The National Indigenous Knowledge Centre Project An Issues Paper February 2010 All responses may be made available to third parties where relevant. Background 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 Centre. 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 knowledge: “…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 events, 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 society, 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 (www.unesco.org/culture/ich/index.php?pg=00006) 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 (www.cbd.int/) 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 (www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/en/declaration.html) 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 (www.unesco.org/new/en/culture) 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 Knowledge 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: 1. 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. 2. Poor Dissemination and Lack of Promotion of Indigenous Knowledge to all Australians 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 outcomes. 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. 3. 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. 4. 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. 5. 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. 6. 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 knowledge. 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 sites. 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 American. 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 institutions 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 NIKC? * 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 IKC? * 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? HOW TO COMMENT Comments on this issues paper or responses to the questions provided can be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org 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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