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Indigenous Knowledges Research

What do we mean by ‘Indigenous knowledge’? 

Traditional Knowledge underpins the fabric of Indigenous identity. In this respect, it has a social, cultural and spiritual dimension.

Janke, T., & Sentina, M. (2018). Indigenous Knowledge: Issues for protection and management. IP Australia: Commonwealth of Australia

There are many definitions and descriptions of Indigenous knowledge out there, and all are somewhat inadequate at expressing the nature, complexity and diversity of Indigenous knowledges. UNESCO states that Indigenous knowledge refers to "the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings", and elsewhere states that traditional knowledge "tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language and agricultural practices".  

Indigenous knowledge has long been fundamental to human life throughout Australia and the world. It constitutes a rich store of traditional knowledge that has since been documented by researchers across many disciplines. Indigenous knowledge is now applied in diverse fields, including medicine, health, education, development, resource management, agriculture, law and the arts. Indigenous knowledge systems are not static, or "of the past". They are dynamic and continue to develop through continued and/or reclaimed practices, experiences and interactions with different knowledge systems and changing contexts.

Today, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers are engaging more deeply with Indigenous knowledge systems and the insights they offer. This guide includes a list of resources to assist researchers to undertake this journey in a way that promotes ethical and respectful relationships. 

Indigenous knowledge at the University of Melbourne 

“Only when Australian Indigenous knowledges, perspectives and experiences are centred at the University of Melbourne can it meaningfully recognise its place and begin to fulfil its aspiration to be a truly great Australian University for the world.”

Professor Shaun Ewen, Pro-Vice Chancellor Indigenous at the University of Melbourne, University Launches Global Indigenous Knowledge Institute.

In the past, universities and research organisations have had limited engagement with Indigenous knowledge systems and have often failed to recognise the expertise of Indigenous knowledge holders. This is changing. In 2019, the University of Melbourne made a major investment in Indigenous knowledge research with the establishment of the Indigenous Knowledge Institute. Now, more than ever, it is critical for researchers to think about engaging with Indigenous knowledge systems in their research practice. 

As you progress on your journey of research and engagement with Indigenous knowledge, you will need to understand the importance of working closely with Indigenous people and communities. There are a range of resources available to assist you in building respectful relationships. As a starting point, you are welcome to seek guidance from the Indigenous Knowledge Institute.