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Cultural Flows -- Biami workshop challenges scientists to partner with Indigenous knowledge holders to improve their research programs

Oct 30, 2018
Author: Goyder Institute


The Goyder Institute for Water was a proud sponsor of the Biami, Indigenous plenary session at the Australian Freshwater Science Conference in Adelaide last month. Together with an Indigenous cultural flows technical session and workshop, it raised the standard for representation of Indigenous knowledge and people at the conference. Ngarrindjeri man, Grant Rigney highlighted the strength and validity of Aboriginal knowledge of water and challenged delegates to build meaningful partnerships with Aboriginal knowledge holders to strengthen their research programs and our collective understanding and management of water in the landscape.

Grant is a key driver in the Goyder Institute project: Translating Ngarrindjeri Yannarumi into water resource risk assessment. The project brings together Flinders University, the Department for Environment and Water, and the Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority to develop landscape health assessments based on Ngarrindjeri principles and philosophies and translate them into water resource risk assessments. The intent is to provide an approach whereby Indigenous science is considered in the same manner as western science in water planning. Steve Hemming (Flinders University) also presented the current findings of the research project at the conference.

Two other Indigenous plenaries, Erina Watene-Rawiri from the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Joe Morrison from the Northern Land Council in the Northern Territory, elaborated on this theme. Erina demonstrated how Mātauranga Māori was integral to the restoration of the Waikato River undertaken by Waikato-Tainui. Joe finished the session outlining how Indigenous-led policy, research and advocacy has influenced Aboriginal water rights across northern Australia.

A Cultural Flows Workshop was held later in the program, where around 30 delegates discussed the concept of cultural flows and workshopped related topics, including how to: apply and incorporate Indigenous knowledge into research programs in a way that recognises intellectual property; maximise opportunities for Indigenous collaboration; and partner to influence decision-making.

The workshop highlighted how ‘cultural flows’ can mean different things to different people and that there is no one-size-fits-all definition or approach. Participants supported the need for Indigenous knowledge to be incorporated into research programs and in the development of water policy, planning and management. Drawing on Waikato and Whanganui examples in Aotearoa, the workshop discussed the intrinsic rights of rivers and streams to have a voice and identity, as is broadly recognised in Indigenous world views. A full summary of the workshop outcomes is being prepared by the Australian Freshwater Science Society.

We thank all speakers and participants for their time and expertise and look forward to continuing these discussions and the developing more respectful research partnerships with Aboriginal Nations.

Contact Goyder Institute Director Kane Aldridge to find out more about the Institute’s partnerships and collaborative programs.