TS-CRC Student project - Understanding Indigenous landscape values: a framework for cross-cultural communication for natural resource management

University of Queensland – Gatton

Marilyn Hubner

Research aims and objectives | Incorporating Indigenous knowledge | Two-way communication framework | Indigenous and western knowledge | Approach and methods | Supervisors | More information |

Research aims and objectives

The major aim for this research is to develop a cross-cultural communication framework that expresses the complexities of Indigenous knowledge and management processes.

Such a framework would allow for a deeper understanding of Indigenous values and the place they can hold in natural resource management. Strategies expressed in the framework will underpin collaborations in knowledge use and natural resource management. It also aims to provide a sound basis for policy and program development to enhance and facilitate the process of engagement with Indigenous peoples, and the development of training materials for natural resource managers.

Incorporating Indigenous knowledge

Despite a growing body of literature on traditional ecological knowledge and increasing international awareness of its importance, Indigenous knowledge has rarely been incorporated into the practical day-to-day administration and policies of governments and departments responsible for resource management and conservation. There have been

The fundamental difficulty that has prevented meaningful involvement has been divergent knowledge paradigms, which have resulted in unequal and undervalued contributions to management by Indigenous peoples.

Nevertheless, there is growing awareness in some quarters that Indigenous Knowledge and cultural perspectives could enhance the sustainable management of resources, and in Australia there is a gradually increasing participation of Indigenous landowners in stakeholder-based land management processes.

This should be enhanced as a matter of social justice. Achieving Indigenous participation in local and regional natural resource management, and integrating Indigenous with scientific knowledge for practical use, have both proved challenging owing to the differing knowledge paradigms and management processes of our two cultures.

Two-way communication framework

There are marked differences in the philosophical and practical nature of the sciences involved. This, and the socio-cultural complexity of the Indigenous knowledge, makes integration of natural resource management with cultural heritage management problematic for most scientists and government land managers.

The very different systems of governance for land and natural resource management between western science and Indigenous knowledge further complicates the sharing of management (Orchard et al . 2003; Young et al . 1991). A two-way communication framework, incorporating Indigenous natural resource values and governance processes, is needed to address these challenges.

Indigenous and western knowledge

There are now only small isolated pockets around the globe where traditional Indigenous resource-management systems operate (Berkes 1999).

Over the past century, globalisation and the expansion of western natural resource management systems have affected the natural cycles and resources, and the impacts of these systems cannot be accurately predicted or effectively controlled (Sadler & Jacobs 1990).

Despite the best intentions of scientists, there seems to be little capacity in western knowledge and management systems to halt the depletion of resources and the degradation of environments (Berkes 1999). However, more holistic approaches to natural resource management that integrate local knowledge systems are becoming more acceptable and the potential of Indigenous knowledge is being acknowledged.

Indigenous peoples have knowledge of and connections with the land and ecosystems in which they live. Over time, they have managed environments to allow for the evolution of the ecosystems that exist today. In western, production-driven societies such as Australia, traditional ecological knowledge is not normally recognised by mainstream resource managers and other bureaucrats and scientists as a valid approach to ecosystem management.

Approach and methods

Methodological approaches and methods are not yet finalised, and a scoping study and selection of case study regions is under way. This includes close liaison with Environment Australia to provide continuity with its Best Practice in the Rangelands project (near completion), and consultation with Indigenous communities, agencies and academics.

A literature review is being conducted to bring together recent experiences in the use of Indigenous knowledge, and in participation in stakeholder-based decision processes. I will take a case study approach to this research with one or more Indigenous groups from the tropical savanna region (and possibly one comparative study outside the savanna region).

Specific methods for data collection will be negotiated with Indigenous communities but will, subject to agreement, include participant observation of communities in their efforts to work with non-Indigenous bodies, in-depth interviews, questionnaires, and consultation and collaboration with other natural resource interests including Queensland Parks & Wildlife Service, Environment Australia and regional catchment management and natural resource management bodies.


A. Ross, University of Queensland
H. Ross, University of Queensland
B. Carter, University of Queensland
R. Bevin, Environment Australia