AERI 2009 – Los Angeles
Indigenous Knowledge and
the Archives: Embracing
Multiple Ways of Knowing
Sue McKemmish & Shannon Faulkhead
(on behalf of Trust & Technology Team
and Indigenous SIG, ASA)
Renewed focus on Bringing Them Home 1997
recommendations, including recordkeeping
Relevant Rights Statements
A milestone for Australia – Sorry Day, 13 February
2008: The National Parliamentary Apology to the
Indigenous People of Australia and the Stolen
Renewed national energy for reconciliation – how
should the archival profession respond?
Renewed Focus on Bringing Them Home
• From 1910 to 1970 up to 50,000 children were forcibly taken
from their families.
• Bringing Them Home tells some of their stories
• Findings included:
– Need for Indigenous Australians to reclaim identity by
knowing their family background and reconnecting with
the places and cultures of their people.
– Importance of telling the stories of post-colonisation
experience, in particular of separation, within Indigenous
communities and beyond to the wider Australian
community as a means of honouring the experiences of
these generations of Indigenous Australians and ensuring
their place within Australia‟s history and memory.
– In the longer term, the need for Indigenous communities
to control their own historical documentation.
Response of Australian Archival Community
• Initiatives to provide better access to records and better
services to Indigenous people seeking information for family
link-ups, land claims and redress
• Greater awareness of need for culturally sensitive description
• Consultation with Indigenous people and communities,
especially re access and exhibitions
• Undertaken within paradigm that positions Indigenous people
as subjects of records and clients of archival services
• The third recommendation - Indigenous community control of
their historical documentation – has not been addressed.
Related Rights Statements
2007 UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples
UN Human Rights Council‟s Joinet-Orentlicher Principles
– the right for individuals and communities in post-colonial
and post-trauma societies to know the truth about past
Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights
– provide for the ownership and control of Indigenous
heritage, including „documentation of Indigenous peoples‟
heritage in all forms of media‟
2003/05 World Summits on the Information Society
– advocated „people-centred, inclusive and development-
oriented Information Society‟; recognised „special
situation of indigenous peoples‟, and need to „preserve
their heritage and their cultural legacy‟.
Parliamentary Apology to Indigenous Australians by
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, 13 February 2008
To the Stolen Generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of
Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am
sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. And I offer
you this apology without qualification. We apologise for the hurt, the
pain and suffering we, the parliament, have caused you by the laws that
previous parliaments have enacted. We apologise for the indignity, the
degradation and the humiliation these laws embodied. We offer this
apology to the mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the families
and the communities whose lives were ripped apart by the actions of
successive governments under successive parliaments…
I say to non-Indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully
understand why what we are doing is so important, I ask those non-
Indigenous Australians to imagine for a moment if this had happened to
you. I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had
happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would
be to forgive. But my proposal is this: if the apology we extend today is
accepted in the spirit of reconciliation, in which it is offered, we can
today resolve together that there be a new beginning for Australia. And
it is to such a new beginning that I believe the nation is now calling us.
Archives and Renewed National Energy for
As Indigenous and settler communities in various countries and
regions have jointly reflected on their engagement with
archives, there has been a growing recognition that Western
archival methods reflect and reinforce a privileging of
settler/colonist voices and narratives – often although not
always expressed in written form – over Indigenous ones.
Further, the conventional positioning of individuals as the
subjects of the archive has had a particularly disempowering
effect on Indigenous people whose lives have been so
extensively documented in archives, often for the purposes of
surveillance, control and dispossession.
Renewed national energy for reconciliation may be conducive to
exploring the legal, policy and archival challenges involved in
implementing the Bringing Them Home recommendation re
Indigenous community control of their historical
Trust & Technology Project: Building Archival
Systems for Indigenous Oral Memory
About eighty Koorie people, the Indigenous people of South-Eastern Australia,
participated in the project, along with researchers from the Public Record
Office Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust, the Victorian Koorie Records
Taskforce, the Australian Society of Archivists and Monash University.
T&T set out to find out about the experiences and opinions of Koorie people in
relation to archives – oral and written – to enable archivists and Koorie
people to develop systems and services which work better for Koorie
Findings highlight need for
– Australian archival profession to understand the priorities of
Indigenous communities and embrace Indigenous frameworks of
knowledge, memory and evidence.
– legal, policy and professional approaches that support Indigenous
frameworks of knowledge, memory and evidence, and re-position
Australian Indigenous communities as co-creators of archival records
T&T developed a draft statement of principles relating to Indigenous
knowledge and the archives and a related action agenda.
Stories are powerful. The courage of Indigenous Knowledge
the telling, and the richness of the
content, can move people and and Archives
communities to rethink their identities,
and the meanings and values they
assign to their lives. Stories are a I think it is very important for us
fundamental method used by … the stories around the
biographical stuff of our family
marginalized groups around the world in and Ancestors, and also some of
their efforts to reclaim their history and the stories about culture and law
culture, and assert their place in the … they are relevant to where we
world are from, and for our kids as
well, … probably the most
fundamental thing is an
Australian Indigenous communities rely on sources of individual’s identity, where they
knowledge and methods of transmission that differ fit in, and where they belong…
from the knowledge frameworks of the wider Having some way to reconnect
community. with family, community and
Oral memory is a very significant and storytelling lies at
the heart of Indigenous knowledge transmission
Far reaching implications for the archival profession in
Australia, archival institutions, systems and
services, and archival science.
Outcome 1: All forms and sources of Indigenous archives
should be respected and preserved
All sources – stories told within families and communities, recorded
stories, the records of Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations
– are valued.
Archival science & practice privilege Western expressions of memory
Archival sources of Indigenous knowledge are fragmented & dispersed.
Dispersal of archival sources and fragmentation of Indigenous
knowledge mirrors dispossession, dislocation and disempowerment
Need for frameworks and systems for sustainable community archives
that integrate, preserve and makes accessible to the community all
records relating to the community, in whatever form or medium,
including government and church records, as well as community and
Recovery and re-integration of Indigenous knowledge from non-
Indigenous archival sources, and acknowledgement of significance
of oral records are particular priorities.
Action re Outcome 1
The research team is working with
stakeholder communities to ensure
definitions of Indigenous knowledge are
inclusive of archival sources, including the
archives of government and non-Indigenous
A draft statement of principles relating to
Australian Indigenous Knowledge and
Archives has been developed for
presentation to ASA Council in July 2009
Archives, state libraries and other
repositories house many Outcome 2: Indigenous people need
significant records about
Indigenous communities. These
greater control over their archives
are the products and
consequence of colonisation,
dispossession, removal and the
relentless surveillance to which
Indigenous people were
Many archival records about Indigenous people are not owned by them.
Indigenous people are not alone here: Australians generally do not
own information collected about them by governments and other
organisations. However, for Indigenous people archival records have
been instruments of dispossession or family separation. More
recently they are playing an important role in restoring family and
community connections. It is essential that Indigenous people control
I’d want to know what they’re going to use it for
and why. I don’t want them to use it as a
means to be against the [tribe name] people.
I’d never ever give permission for that sort of
stuff. I’ll be very restrictive with the whitefella
because it’s all about trust and knowing where
they’re coming from. For to us these stories
When you think back, when we went
through our land claims, it makes you
wonder … the access the government
Outcome 3: Rights in
lawyers had to our families was unreal. It
really opened our eyes when we couldn’t
get it ourselves.
Human rights statements and Indigenous protocols say Indigenous
people have the right to make decisions about the creation and
management of their knowledge in all its forms.
Indigenous peoples have particular rights in records which arise from
the part they have played in the past in their oppression and
dispossession, and their role in the present and future in recovering
identity and memory, re-uniting families, seeking redress and
But Indigenous people in Australia have few rights over records relating
to them in government and other archival institutions.
Many Indigenous people view all records that relate to them as their
records, but the institutions that house and control the records do not
view them in the same way.
Indigenous people have access rights, but there are no rights of
disclosure, and no shared decision-making relating to ownership,
custody, preservation and access.
Why does everyone have to know
about anyone’s family unless they
give permission. Everyone knows
everything about you, but you don’t.
Action re Outcomes 2 & 3
The largest obstacle to the realisation of Indigenous rights in
records is the Australian legal and archival frameworks. This
could be addressed by:
– Reforms to legal frameworks and extension of
international and national laws and protocols to all
records and archival sources of Indigenous knowledge
– Re-definition of records creation enforcing broader
spectrum of rights and obligations.
A research and action agenda for reform of legal and archival
frameworks is being developed in consultation with the
Monash Castan Centre in Human Rights Law. An
International Workshop bringing together archival, legal,
Indigenous studies and community experts is planned for
Outcome 4: A holistic, community-based approach
to Indigenous archives
Indigenous knowledge cannot be made to adhere to
the usual institutional/sectoral boundaries of
archival programs. Holistic, community-based
approaches would bring together, physically or
virtually, all archives of a community, regardless of
their source or form, and would model community
perspectives on the interconnectedness of Western
and Indigenous knowledge traditions.
Actions re Outcome 4
– Australian Research Council grant, Koorie Archiving:
Communities and Records Working Together (Shannon
Faulkhead, Indigenous Post Doctoral Fellow)
– NAA pilot of a participant model involving Indigenous
community sharing in decision-making about records
relating to their community
That’s right, just to put the record straight.
“That wasn’t the way it happened. This is the Outcome 5: “Setting the
way it happened”. People want to pussyfoot
around the truth … To read something that is
incorrect is pretty hard because you know
that wasn’t the way it happened. If you can
have your chance to be heard, then
Indigenous people want to challenge the contents of „official‟ records by
recording their own narratives and perspectives alongside them.
International human rights principles and the experiences of other post-
colonial, post-surveillance societies endorse this as an important
means of acknowledging and limiting the ongoing potency of records
which have been the tools and products of dispossession and
Indigenous people need mechanisms to set the record straight,
comment upon the inaccuracies or limitations of institutional records,
contribute family narratives which expand upon or give context to
institutional records, and present their version of events alongside
the official one.
Action re Outcome 5
Implementation of KAS, a Koorie Archiving System based on Web 2.0
technologies, by Public Record Office Victoria, Koorie Heritage Trust
and Monash University
Outcomes 6 & 7: Archival education and
Archival education should enable students to recognise their own
cultural perspectives and how these come into play in their
work and research.
Students need exposure to the experiences of Indigenous people
who have interacted with the dominant knowledge framework
represented by mainstream archival institutions.
Initiatives needed to increase the participation of Indigenous
people in archival education as educators and students.
Archival profession needs to consider its role in archival training
for Indigenous communities.
Archival research relating to Indigenous communities should be
conducted within research design and ethics frameworks and
adopt participatory research methodologies which better
reflect the values and rights of communities.
Actions re Outcomes 6 & 7
PacRim Pluralizing the Archival Paradigm Through Education
Project (UCLA, Monash, Rienmen)
Inclusion of provisions to address inclusive education issues in
accreditation and recognition processes
Development of inclusive and culturally sensitive curriculum
Scholarship and internship programs, e.g. Monash Indigenous
Archives Scholarship (NAA, PROV, ASA sponsorship)
Advocacy action within Monash and in appropriate national and
international forums re community-centred archival research
design, ethics and methods
Publications providing “literary warrant” for community-centred
research design, ethics and methods
Draft Statement of Principles
Principle 1 Recognition of all Archival Sources of Indigenous
Knowledge: Archival sources of Indigenous knowledge are diverse
and include records held in the archives of Government and non-
Principle 2: Recognition of Rights in Records: The rights of Indigenous
people should extend to making decisions about the creation and
management of their knowledge in all its forms, including knowledge
contained in records created by non-Indigenous people and
organisations about Indigenous people.
Principle 3: Recognition of Rights in Legal and Archival Frameworks:
Given the extent to which Indigenous people are documented in
archives, the circumstances under which many records were created
and the part that these records have played in their dispossession,
dislocation and disempowerment, as well as in the recovery of
identity, reconnecting families, pursuing land claims,
intergenerational healing, redress and reconciliation, Indigenous
rights in records need to be recognised in legal, political and
Draft Statement of Principles
Principle 4 Adoption of Holistic, Community-Based Approaches
to Indigenous Archiving: Community-based, community
controlled archival systems and services based on a holistic,
approach to Indigenous archiving – bringing together,
integrating, preserving and making accessible to the
community, physically or virtually, all archives of value
regardless of their source, form or medium – will best meet
the needs of Indigenous communities.
Principle 5 Recognition of Need for Indigenous People to
Challenge „Official‟ Records: Mechanisms are needed to set
the record straight, comment on inaccuracies or limitations,
contribute family and individual narratives, and present their
version of events alongside the official one.
6. Recognition of Need for Inclusive Education and
Training for Recordkeeping Professional Practice
Principle 6 Recognition of Need for Inclusive Education and
Training for Recordkeeping Professional Practice: A set of
principles relating to inclusive, pluralistic and culturally aware
recordkeeping education and training should inform course
recognition/accreditation and the expectations set by
employers and professional associations for ongoing
Principle 7 Researching Together, Rethinking the Relationship
between Academia and Indigenous communities: University-
based researchers need to overhaul research methods which
position Indigenous communities as the subjects of research,
pursue a participatory model of community-based research,
and avoid approaches which involve a re-colonisation or
misappropriation of Indigenous knowledge by researchers.
The principles of community-based participatory action
research need to be embedded in academia.
Acknowledgement: Artist Vicki Couzens, Gunditjmara Tribe, from the
Koorie Heritage Trust Inc. Collection
The T&T Project selected this image as its logo as it reflects the
continuity of Koorie knowledge through the generations – that the
memories of our Ancestors continue with us today. As Vicki said in
Wrapped in a Possum Skin Cloak: „I‟m firmly in the belief that we have
ancestral memories, that it comes from within‟. The T&T project found
that oral memory is a very important source of Indigenous knowledge.
Written records, including government records, are another. When
researching possum skin cloak designs Vicki found this as well: „I‟ve
reinterpreted those symbols, I‟ve done a bit of figuring out, and I‟ve
talked to my dad a lot about it … I‟ve looked at some of those symbols
and thought, “Well what do they mean?” And some I haven‟t got a clue,
and some I‟ve gone, “This has to be what this means! It makes sense, it
feels right …” If you look in George Augustus Robinson‟s writings … at
the drawing that shows a map of eel traps, and then you look at one of
the designs on the Lake Condah cloak – you go, “Well this has to be
that. It just looks like it and it makes sense…” (Reynolds, J.R., National
Museum of Australia Press, 2005)
The Project Team gratefully acknowledges the support of our industry partners: the Public Record Office of
Victoria, the Koorie Heritage Trust Inc., the Victorian Koorie Records Taskforce and the Australian
Society of Archivists Indigenous Issues Special Interest Group. We thank in particular Jason Eades,
Chief Executive Officer of the Koorie Heritage Trust, and Justine Heazlewood, Director and Keeper of
Public Records for their commitment to the project. In his former position as Director and Keeper of
Public Records, Ross Gibbs was instrumental in establishing the project, and we thank him for his
ongoing interest in the project‟s progress since moving to the National Archives of Australia.
The Australian Research Council funded this research through its Linkage Scheme.
The Monash University Chief Investigators were Professor Lynette Russell (Centre for Australian Indigenous
Studies), Professor Sue McKemmish, Emeritus Professor Don Schauder, Dr Kirsty Williamson (2003-
04) and Associate Professor Graeme Johanson (from 2005) (all from the Caulfield School of
Information Technology). Justine Heazlewood, Director and Keeper of Public Records, was a Partner
Researchers engaged on the project at various times were Andrew Waugh, Graeme Hairsine, Simon Flagg,
Rachel U‟Ren, Emma Toon, Merryn Edwards, Sharon Huebner, Dr Stefanie Kethers, Fiona Ross, Carol
Jackway and Jen Sullivan. Diane Singh, the project‟s Community Advisor, played an extensive and vital
role at all stages of the project. Shannon Faulkead was the Australian Postgraduate Award (Industry)
PhD student attached to the project, although her contribution also extended far beyond the usual role
of a PhD student.
The Team also thanks the Project‟s Advisory Group for their support at various stages of the project: Jim
Berg, Kathryn Dan, Jenni Davidson, Jason Eades, Dr Jane Hunter, Angela Jurjevic, Michael Piggott, Dr
Dianne Reilly, Joan Vickery, Chris Walker. We are grateful also to Koora Cooper and John (Sandy)
Atkinson who were community representatives for the project at the Memories, Communities,
Technologies Conference in 2006.
Colleagues Dr Livia Iacovino and Professor Eric Ketelaar contributed their expertise in archives and
information law to the project.
Finally the Team acknowledges the eighty-one participants from the Koorie communities of Victoria who
agreed to be interviewed as part of the project, along with thirteen archival service providers, managers
and mediators who participated in stage two. Their preparedness to share their time, opinions and
experiences is greatly appreciated and valued.
Slide 9: Liza Dale (Senior Curator, Technology and Sustainable Futures,
Museum Victoria), „Stories and Storytelling: A Cultural Partnership
between Museum Victoria and the Victorian Women on Farms
Gatherings‟, Paper presented at the Setting the Agenda for Rural
Women Conference, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. 16-17
Slide 9: Trust and Technology Interview No. 42
Slide 12: Lynette Russell, „Indigenous Records and Archives: Mutual
Obligations and Building Trust‟, Archives and Manuscripts 34:1,
May2006, p. 35
Slide 12: Trust and Technology Interviews No. 37
Slide 13: Trust and Technology Interviews No. 11
Slide 13: Trust and Technology Interview No. 61
Slide 16: Trust and Technology Interview No. 64
• United Nations General Assembly, Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
(accessed September 2007).
• The original Joinet Principles were adopted by the UNHRC in 1997 and were
reviewed and extended in 2005 to become the Joinet-Orentlicher principles.
They are available at
pdf) (accessed July 2007).
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Our Culture Our Future: A
Report on Australian Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property Rights,
(accessed August 2007).
• World Summit on the Information Society (Geneva 2003 – Tunis 2005), Tunis
Commitment, (http://www.itu.int/wsis/docs2/tunis/off/7.html) (accessed July