Tropical Savannas CRC > Publications > Savanna Links > Savanna Links Archive > Issue 23, July - September 2002

Issue 23, August - October 2002

Alliance signals new era in research

Joe Morrison

Joe Morrison at the Cairns workshop: ‘The CRC needs to increase the ability for Indigenous people to become involved as researchers and not the research topic.’

Joe Morrison is the Indigenous Land Management Facilitator at NT’s Wildlife Management Unit. He spoke at the CRC priority-setting workshop outlining the unique relationship between the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance and the CRC—and what it could mean for Indigenous interests.

Indigenous land use | Indigenous land-management needs | Sustainability for people | Benefits of NAILSMA/TS–CRC collaboration | More information |

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance was established by the peak Indigenous natural resource agencies across northern Australia taking in the Kimberley the Top End of the Northern Territory, and the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York in Queensland. It is an inchoate entity that currently stands as a Memorandum of Understanding between these groups, but is a partner in the TS–CRC—and one that can provide a vehicle for improved research outcomes for Indigenous landowners across the tropical savannas.

Indigenous land use

Indigenous people are major occupiers, owners, users and managers of land across northern Australia. Their influence over land and seas is increasing and will continue to do so as more land is returned through handbacks, purchases, and negotiations.

An important point to make is that Indigenous interests in lands and seas is not something that is separate from other sectoral groups, although it has a different feel and shape to it. We also are the pastoralists, miners, tour operators living and working among you. We don’t want to be seen as an entirely separate group but more so one that has a slightly different approach and cultural background to it.

However, we need to make sure that further research on Indigenous lands continues to meaningfully incorp­orate or be driven by Indigenous people. Their views need to be integrated into mainstream research and natural resource management in a way that reflects their economic, social, environmental and spiritual values to country.

Indigenous land-management needs

First and foremost is the desire to have Indigenous people back on their country to carry out inter-generational transfer of knowledge of natural and cultural resources that takes place within a given estate or region.

The model used by the CRC to engage Indigenous people in research such as the fire management work needs to be extended throughout government structures. Government has to work collaboratively with Indigenous organisations in a way that reflects the desires and aspirations of people returning to country and occupying it and one that has social, economic as well as biodiversity benefits. My personal view of poorly managed country is one that is absent of its people whereas people should be on it practicing their rites, beliefs and religious associations with it.

This follows a need to get a flow of information and strategy between broad Indigenous society into places like the CRC and its partner agencies to better understand Indigenous people’s viewpoint. The environment and how we do the things we do. We also want to continue and strengthen relationships with groups such as pastoral, conservation, mining, and tourism to enhance our capacity to effectively manage natural and cultural resources.

Sustainability for people

Using biophysical issues for capacity development is a good model, but how do we work more on the people side of the story? This is one of my personal motivators in natural resource management. Whether it’s directly or indirectly related to the CRC, we have to get more Indigenous people through education at the tertiary and postgraduate levels. Indigenous people can then do the research themselves rather than being the research.

For too long we have seen Indigenous people as study subjects by social and biological scientists. Those people that gain knowledge from Indigenous people need to stay within northern Australia. This has not been a strong feature of past research, and it could be an area for the CRC to lead the way—by developing protocols and procedures for working with Indigenous people and knowledge collection and collation.

Benefits of NAILSMA/TS–CRC collaboration

The relationship between the CRC and NAILSMA is a two-way forum that gives Indigenous people access and knowledge to influence broader research topics across the savannas. However, the CRC needs to increase the ability for Indigenous people to become involved as researchers, and not the research topic. We should also, as a community, be mindful that the CRC’s work has to be taken on board at ground level; sectoral groups need information in a format useful to people on the land .


Mr Joe Morrison
Executive Officer, NAILSMA
Charles Darwin University
Tel: 08 8946 6702

Mobile: 0429 695 324
Fax: 08 8946 7107

Bldg 41, Charles Darwin University