Aboriginal Knowledge: It's not how old you are but how old the knowledge is that you have responsibility for. There are plenty of 43 year old boys and girls out there. Our knowledge is earned not learnt. Our knowledge can only be sought and given by knowledge holders ... it can't be procured by obtaining three quotes. This knowledge has been developed through time immemorial trial and error. At best Australia only has around 200 years of ‘qualitative’ scientific data on how to manage country.

So what is Aboriginal Knowledge?

Knowledge is earned
Figure 1: Introduction to IKS by Jane Wirch

Aboriginal Knowledge means knowledge systems that are embedded in the cultural Lores, history and traditions of Traditional Owner groups and includes, without limitation, knowledge of:

  • Creation stories (Indigenous Lores) and contemporary stories;
  • Historical connections to places and stories;
  • Rituals, ceremonies, songs and dance;
  • Traditional technologies (e.g. tools and techniques for hunting, fishing and subsistence);
  • Ethnobotany and ethnozoology;
  • Ecological knowledge, including knowledge of plants, animals and ecological systems and knowledge of sea currents and marine ecosystem dynamics;
  • Marine and terrestrial genetic resources;
  • Traditional medicine;
  • Ethnoastronomy;
  • The climate; and
  • Indigenous heritage

It also includes the rights that Indigenous Knowledge Holders hold to such knowledge.

So how do you apply ethical standards to accessing and safeguarding Aboriginal Knowledge?


Free, Prior and Informed Consent (Image Courtesy GBRMPA)

Ethical Standards means application of each of the principles set out in the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies 2012, including, but not limited to:

  1. Obtaining the free, prior and informed consent of the Traditional Owner group and Indigenous Knowledge Holders to the sharing of Aboriginal knowledge;
  2. Protecting the Traditional Owner groups and Aboriginal Knowledge Holders’ intellectual property rights to Aboriginal Knowledge, whether or not those rights are protected in Australian law; and
  3. Meeting the requirements of the Privacy Act.