Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge PDF Print E-mail

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Project overview


Currently, there has been very limited consideration of the involvement of Indigenous people and their knowledge, skills, aspirations and land in national ecology debates. This working group aims to explore the possibilities and practical mechanisms whereby this situation could be addressed.

There are many practitioners who are working hard on the ground to document, maintain and raise awareness about the benefits and values of Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge. This workshop will bring some of these people as well as other significant stakeholders together to develop a map of and report about the current status of Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge in Australia.

We will draw on cognitive mapping tools to illustrate where strengths in Indigenous knowledge lie (in both documented and living forms), and review the gaps, challenges and opportunities for the maintenance, re-acquisition and use of Indigenous knowledge. Mapping this spatio-temporal data will also allow us to develop insights into the relationships between bio-cultural data and other environmental and social variables such as climatic events, fire and demographic shifts. The map will be necessarily accompanied by discussion about Intellectual Property (IP) and Indigenous knowledge access and use issues.

This project is different from other TERN projects as it centralizes the importance of Indigenous knowledge, people and land in the national ecological research debate. The working group will involve expert Indigenous knowledge holders, non-Indigenous experts (ecologists, biologists and social scientists) with close association with Indigenous ecology and land management, and other stakeholders from NGO’s, government departments and Indigenous Land Councils.

As there has been no comprehensive analysis of Australian Indigenous bio-cultural data, this project will greatly enhance the capacity of researchers, policy makers and resource managers to identify culturally important regions, species, ecosystems and other ecological components as well as potentially, Traditional Owners of country and knowledge holders for particular areas.

This project could influence the way ecosystem research is conducted in Australia in the future, in both the short and long term, by promoting a culture of synthesis, collaboration, and cross-cultural data sharing. There is a great deal of interest in Indigenous knowledge from non-Indigenous ecologists and broader Australia. However, there are challenges to the respectful acquisition and use of (and payments for) Indigenous knowledge that in some areas have thwarted significant collaboration in the past. Some Indigenous knowledge has been documented and successfully incorporated into contemporary land and sea management programs, but there are very few examples. Intellectual property rights and payments have only recently started to be addressed. This working group will draw on existing guidelines and present practical ways that Indigenous knowledge can be appreciated and drawn on better in the future for the enhancement of Australian natural and cultural resource management and ecology.


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Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge
Documenting Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge with elder Mary Kolkiwarra on the Arnhem Plateau.
Photo: Sam Bentley-Toon


For further information about this group, please contact the Principal Investigator, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


For further information about the Australian Indigenous Biocultural Knowlege initiative please visit the web site.

Link to Working Group Wiki (Login required - restricted to Working Group Members)


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Project outcomes



Web site

The group has produced a web site to show the collated, published wealth of literature about Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge. This web site is the platform for the wider community, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal to better appreciate the spatial and temporal information that can be utilised for decision-making and research.


The web site is accessible here, and is intended to become the property of the community.


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Awards and Media

Banksia Award 2014

The Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge Group won a 2014 Banksia Award in the category of Indigenous Leadership for Sustainability

The group won a 2014 Banksia Award in the category of Indigenous Leadership for Sustainability.


This award was gained for the work the group has been conducting (with ACEAS support), to collate documents and examples of living IBK and promote them through a “one-stop-shop” website This website includes a world-first map, which illustrates the locations of place-based publically-available Australian IBK. The map allows for analysis of gaps, hotspots and opportunities for IBK documentation.


The IBK Working Group was recognised as a unique collaboration of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scientists and land managers from a range of organisations from remote to urban Australia. This project is highly innovative and contemporary in its delivery of IBK to the world stage.


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L to R: Gerry Turpin (Australian Tropical Herbarium), Emilie Ens (Macquarie University), John Locke (Biocultural Consulting Pty Ltd), Kelvin Ironstone and Rose Munur (Ngkurr, Northern Territory), Petina Pert (CSIRO), and Alison Specht (ACEAS)
Left to Right: Gerry Turpin (Australian Tropical Herbarium), Emilie Ens (Macquarie University), John Locke (Biocultural Consulting Pty Ltd), Kelvin Ironstone and Rose Munur (Ngkurr, Northern Territory), Petina Pert (CSIRO), and Alison Specht (ACEAS)



Several interviews have been given about this important work, and one, with Philip Clarke, can be heard here, and another here.


An article has been published in The Conversation, an on-line journal for current opinion informed by research and academia. This is linked under Papers and articles.


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Papers and articles


This group has two papers published, and an article in The Conversation was published in March 2015 drawing substantially on the work of the group


Ens, E., Pert, P., Clarke, P.A., Budden, M., Clubb, L., Doran, B., Douras, C., Gaikwad, J., Gott, B., Leonard, S., Locke, J., Packer, J., Turpin, G. and Wason, S. (2015) Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: Review and insight from Australia. Biological Conservation 181: 133-49. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2014.11.008


Pert, P.L., Ens E.E., Locke J., Clarke P.A., Packer J.M., Turpin G. (2015) An online spatial database of Australian Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge for contemporary natural and cultural resource management. Science of the Total Environment 534: 110-121. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2015.01.089


The Conversation: Remote Indigenous Communities are vital for our fragile ecosystems

an extract:

All over this continent, from the remotest deserts to the tropical savannas, Aboriginal people are committed to maintaining the environmental values of their lands for themselves and for all Australians. In different political circumstances they might be lauded as nation-builders and given the sort of praise and support that colonial frontiersmen have historically enjoyed.

At a time when governments of all persuasions are struggling to close the gap, it is sensible to recognise the opportunities that remote Indigenous communities give to their residents and the nation.


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Workshop Reports

Workshop 1 Report (12–16 November 2012)

From the 12-16 November 2012 the Indigenous Bio-cultural Knowledge working group (IBCK WG) met at Minjerribah (the local Aboriginal name North Stradbroke Island) and were welcomed to country by Quandamooka elder, Aunty Margaret Iselin.


On day one, after some discussion, the group collectively decided how to proceed with the opportunity to advocate for enhanced involvement of Indigenous people, country and knowledge in national ecology and natural and cultural resource management (NCRM) agendas. We decided to aim for three products that would appeal to a broad multi-cultural audience and we thought were achievable given the available resources and expertise of the group. These were:


  • a website and discussion paper highlighting best practice case studies, challenges and links to other resources; and


  • a GIS-based spatio-temporal analysis (map) of publically available IBCK literature which are directly tied to a particular place.


During the week, the group started to compile the literature review and developed a set of criteria for inclusion of works in the review. Endnote libraries, literature reviews and databases of WG participants were used as a starting point and we are continuing to add to the review through ongoing database searches. In late February 2013 we propose to distribute the information making up these products for broader feedback, comment and contributions.


To demonstrate the diversity of Indigenous bio-cultural knowledge projects and the fact that many projects and much knowledge is not publically available or in documented forms, but rather, is ‘living knowledge’ (as Aboriginal knowledge was and in many cases still is spoken knowledge), we also drafted two case studies which focussed on the work and knowledge of two Indigenous WG participants: Gerry Turpin and Emmanuel Namarnyilk. Gerry Turpin runs the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) of the Australian Tropical Herbarium (ATH), and is involved in many IBCK projects, some of which have been documented in community reports and others that have not been documented. To demonstrate the diversity and spatial extent of ITEC’s work, he was keen to capture these projects as a case study on the map. A draft of this case study was produced as a ‘spider map’ of ITEC’s projects. Public use of this case study will be discussed with relevant elders at the proposed next ACEAS IBCK WG meeting, which we hope will be in Cairns to facilitate active involvement of the elders in the area of this process. The other proposed case study of living IBCK was discussed with Emmanuel Namarnyilk from western Arnhem Land who is aware of key knowledge holders of this region. A trial of this knowledge was conducted at the first WG meeting, with specific names omitted for privacy and intellectual property reasons. Approvals for use of this information are being sought and we hope that more representatives from western Arnhem Land can participate in the proposed next ACEAS WG meeting in Cairns.


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Left to right: Petina Pert, Tina Bain, Beth Gott, Gerry Turpin, Jo Packer, Bruce Doran, Emmanuel Namarnyilk, Emilie Ens and Jitendra Gaikwad.


If anyone would like further information about this WG please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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Workshop 2 Report (8-12 April 2013)

Our second and final meeting of the ACEAS Australian Indigenous Bio-Cultural Knowledge Working Group (AIBKWG) was held in Cairns to enable the Indigenous Advisory Group of the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) to attend. This is Australia’s only Indigenous-driven Ethnobotany Centre and is located in the Australian Tropical Herbarium on the James Cook University, Cairns campus. The advisory group were hence able to participate in the working group and the other working group members able to see first-hand the work of the Ethnobotany Centre (a field trip to the herbarium the Ethnobotany Centre and Herbarium was held during the week).

Participating Advisory Group members were John Locke (Director BioCultural Consulting), Steve Wason (Watsonville Aboriginal Corporation), Peter and Marilyn Wallace (Bana-Yaralji Bulka), Lillian Clubb (Mallanburra-Dulabed-Yidinjii), Cheryl Douras (Bar-Barrum Aboriginal Corporation) and Marita Budden (Jirrbal-Dyirbal) and Gerry Turpin (Mbarbaram). As the Advisory Group had an existing rapport with each other and had previous discussions with Gerry Turpin (Indigenous Ethnobotanist) about the AIBKWG, they were able to make substantial valuable contributions and provide strong direction.

The second meeting also drew some other important new faces and contributions, which greatly benefited the group’s overall aim of promoting Indigenous ecology and enhancing inclusivity of Indigenous people in Australian ecology debates. Many of the new participants came from South Australia, including Rosemary Lester (Board member of Alinytjara Wilurana NRM (AWNRM), Australia’s only NRM group with an entirely Aboriginal Board), Tamahina Cox (SA Parks Aboriginal Ranger), Joe Stelmann (many years working with Aboriginal land managers, currently AWNRM Fire Officer), Justine Graham (AWNRM Ecologist) and Dr Philip Clarke (previously Head of Science at the SA Museum and author of significant Ethnobotany books including Aboriginal People and their Plants and Aboriginal Plant Collectors). Sonia Leonard, who has diverse experience working with Aboriginal land and sea managers across Australia, also joined the workshop. Other IBKWG members who attended the second workshop were Gerry Turpin, Petina Pert (Spatial Analyst, CSIRO), Joanne Packer (Ethnopharmacologist, Macquarie Uni Indigenous Bioresources Research Group) and Emilie Ens (Ecologist, Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, ANU).

The week began with a welcome to Country by Seith Fourmile (Gimuy Walubara Clan of the Yidinji People), which triggered debate about the aims and membership of the AIBKWG. The aims of the AIBK working group, decided at the first meeting were to produce:


- a website and discussion paper highlighting best practice case studies, challenges and links to other resources related to Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge
- a GIS-based spatio-temporal analysis (map) of publically available IBCK literature which are directly tied to a particular place
- case studies of living knowledge projects to demonstrate that much of Indigenous knowledge has not been documented but is still “alive”, being maintained and used to manage Country and Culture.


There was some initial debate and recognition that publically available material containing documented Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge may contain sensitive information and that the knowledge holders in many cases should be consulted prior to re-promotion of the material. It was generally agreed that one role of the website should be to make the users aware of these issues and to provide information on how to best approach the relevant authorities (eg Aboriginal Land Councils, Traditional Owner groups, NRM bodies) before using these references as a resource. The inclusion of a warning disclaimer notice was therefore recommended. The map we are producing should therefore begin with a “consent seeking advice” (similar to the AIATSIS MURA catalogue) whereby anyone wanting to further use the material must seek approval from the relevant Traditional Owner group.

The aim of the map is to provide an indication of the diverse and geographical representation of Indigenous Biocultural Knowledge material with a message that this knowledge cannot be ignored in Australian ecological debates, decision making and management. Information to be included in the mapped citations would include: The title, author(s), year, and any publically available links to the material.

During the week the group worked hard on parts of these products, including:


- pulling together a strong reference list (approx. 1300 refs total) of publically available material (split into place-based, reviews and methods papers)
- the website. We identifies
- identification of what we wanted to promote on the website
- resources to recognise and encourage the use of AIBK in the management of Australian lands and resources
- the website design and target audience
- Academics, Indigenous groups, Land Management/NRMs/ educational institutions, government/policy makers
- website content
- definitions of terminology for potential Indigenous and non-Indigenous users of the website, information about the AIBK WG, information about how we put together the information, a template for (and information about) case studies (including photos)
- the discussion paper content, which we discussed publishing in an Australian ecological journal.
- the map
- which base maps?
- It was decided to have a map on the website which you could turn on/off different base layers (e.g. IPA boundaries, Native Title determination areas, Bioregions)
- sorted out place based references to have topic categories as well so website users could only retrieve material linked to certain topics.
- Mappable references sorted into categories: Plants, Animals, Water, Fire, Resources/Material (e.g. food, medicine), Weather /Seasons
- Which type of map provider?
- Various approaches are being considered to deliver the map to the community. Initial web mapping was performed with Mango maps. An application to Google Outreach for support was unsuccessful. Other approaches are being considered
- Spatial analysis of reference material by Bioregions, IPAs, Native Title regions
- Temporal analysis of material pre-1900, 1901-1950, 1951-2000, 2001-present
- Case studies of living knowledge (for the discussion paper and website)
- Developed a template to outline information e.g. title, summary, photo, link
- To be made available on website to invite further contributions and standardise input
- Completed 10 case studies for projects that people in the group were involved in
- Drafted an open letter to invite people to submit other case studies when the website is up and running
- Facebook page – to facilitate networking
- Facebook presence at Participants have been invited to join and further invite potentially interested parties


Unfortunately these tasks were not finished by the end of the week, despite our best efforts, so we are continuing to work on these products over the coming weeks with assistance from ACEAS staff, particularly for the website and website map.

An interesting discussion emerged while we were on our field trip to the herbarium about acknowledging Aboriginal plant collectors and adding Aboriginal plant names (and possibly uses) to specimens in the herbarium. The third photo below shows Lillian Clubb, Cheryl Douras and Marita Budden looking through the collecting book of a botanist who worked with one of their family members in the past. On occasion the botanist acknowledged his help and Aboriginal plant uses, and ideas followed in our discussion about going back to some of these old records and adding Aboriginal collectors’ names and information in any specimens linked to those records. AIBKWG members are likely pursue this project in the future, and discuss with herbaria ways of acknowledging Aboriginal work and involvement in Australia’s botanical past and indeed aspirations for future enhanced involvement.



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Workshop 2 participants
Second ACEAS AIBKWG in Cairns: Back/ standing L to R: Bruce White (Bana-Yaralji Bulka), Philip Clarke (consultant), Cheryl Douras (Bar-Barrum Aboriginal Corporation), Steve Wason (Watsonville Aboriginal Corporation), John Locke (Biocultural Consulting), Marita Budden (Jirrbal-Dyirbal/Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre), Joe Stelmann (SA Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources), Lillian Clubb (Mallanburra-Dulabed-Yidinjii). Front/sitting: Gerry Turpin (Mbarbaram/Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre), Peter Wallace (Bana-Yaralji Bulka), Sonia Leonard (University of Melbourne), Marilyn Wallace (Bana-Yaralji Bulka), Petina Pert (CSIRO), Emilie Ens (Australian National University), Tamahina Cox (National Parks, SA), Joanne Packer (Maquarie University), Justine Graham (SA Department of Environment, Water & Natural Resources), Rosemary Lester (Alinytjara Wilurana NRM /APY Lands & First Peoples International Links).


Gerry Turpin, Ethnobotanist, Australian Tropical Herbarium


Lillian Clubb, Cheryl Douras and Marita Budden inspect the plant collecting book of a botanist who worked with their relative in the past.


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Last Updated on Friday, 23 October 2015 16:40