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Indigenous Knowledges Research

What sort of resources should I be using?

Indigenous knowledge can be expressed in a number of forms, including song, ceremony, painting, stories, and language. When undertaking research that involves primary sources of Indigenous knowledge, such as songs, language or knowledge of Country, you should use resources produced by or in collaboration with Indigenous holders of that knowledge to ensure your work is appropriate and respectful, and meets cultural protocols particularly around restricted knowledge. At graduate levels of research and above, you should work in direct collaboration with Indigenous knowledge holders for the benefit of their communities.

In addition to primary sources, there are also a number of secondary sources that describe and analyse Indigenous knowledge systems. When evaluating these sources, and deciding whether and how to use them in your research, you should consider the extent to which they demonstrate the relevant Indigenous community has been engaged in the research, and supports/ endorses the work. Other resources that will be relevant to Indigenous knowledge research include sources, often written by Indigenous scholars, that touch on many of the topics discussed in this library guide, including research methodologies, intellectual property, ethics, and Indigenous data governance.

Suggested search terms

To find Indigenous knowledge resources, try some of these terms when searching in a database or the library catalogue.

"Indigenous knowledge" AND "research methods"

Indigenous AND (knowledge* OR knowing)

"Indigenous knowledge" AND ("intellectual property" OR rights)

Indigenous AND data AND ethics

Shared Zotero library

For further resources, please take a look at the Indigenous Knowledges Institute's shared Zotero library. This is a collaborative library of resources and it includes additional information about each item. If a source has an Indigenous author/editor, the author's nation or language group information is captured in the "Language" field. Information about what Indigenous community the research focuses on is captured in the "Rights" field. We welcome contributions to this library.

You can access the Zotero library here: https://www.zotero.org/groups/2524248/indigenous_knowledges_library

Using archival materials 

Archival materials are often the first place historians, anthropologists and other researchers look to understand the past. In the context of Indigenous knowledges and cultures, these materials are fraught, because they often tell Indigenous stories through colonial eyes. This is not to say that scholars undertaking research related to Indigenous knowledges should avoid archival materials. Many authors, including Bruce Pascoe and Bill Gammage, have used colonial sources to question persistent narratives about Indigenous societies at the point of colonial contact, demonstrating the presence of Indigenous agriculture and other labour systems which have been largely ignored by historians. Nathan Mudyi Sentence, a Wiradjuri project officer at the Australian Museum has worked to decolonise the archive by exposing colonial bias, and presenting Indigenous counter-narratives.

Decolonising Australian cultural institutions has become a priority for Australian archives, libraries and museums. They acknowledge the Eurocentric focus of their holdings and work to enable the discovery of Indigenous Australian content for research. This is a work in progress at the University of Melbourne Archives and many other institutions.

The following is a very partial list of archives and libraries where research assistance can be found in Victoria, NSW and ACT. Further web sites and catalogues of archives, libraries, universities, museums and more around the country can be found online. Monash University, for example, has an extensive program of education and scholarships for potential Indigenous archivists.

  • The State Library of Western Australia has extensive resources and guides to Indigenous WA including Storylines which provides for the digital return of photos and other materials directly to Aboriginal families, communities and people. 
  • The State Record Office WA has guides to their holdings on Aboriginal peoples, including a database of names of Indigenous people in WA.


Libraries Tasmania includes the Tasmanian Archives. It provides extensive guidance to resources on Aboriginal families and the early days of Tasmanian Government and treatment of Aboriginal peoples.

Library & Archives NT hosts Territory Stories, which is a is a digital archive of historical and culturally significant materials in the Northern Territory. The collection includes documents, photographs, audio and video files. Territory Stories draws on content and stories collected in local knowledge centers managed by the community, including Indigenous communities.  It also has finding aids to Archival records. The database is complex to use.

  • The State Library of Queensland is a portal to Indigenous photographs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as well as their languages. They hold part of the Tindale Genealogical Collection 1928-1960 for Indigenous Communities in Queensland and NSW.
  • Queensland State Archives also have guides and assistance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples including a research guide to records in the Archive.

Recommended books

Below is a selection of books which provide a brief introduction to Indigenous knowledge research focusing on a range of topics including decolonising methodologies, data governance, Indigenous languages and Indigenous land management. A more extensive list of recommendations is available in the shared Zotero library.

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Disciplining the Savages - Savaging the Disciplines

Martin Nakata, 2007

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Welcome to Country

Marcia Langton, 2018

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Living Languages and New Approaches to Language Revitalisation Research

Tonya Stebbins, Kris Eira, Vicki Couzens, 2017

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Traditional healers of Central Australia

Ngangkari / Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjar Yankunytjatjara Women's Council Aboriginal Corporation, 2013

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Decolonizing Methodologies

Linda Tuhiwai Smith, 2012

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Research Is Ceremony

Shawn Wilson, 2008

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Indigenous data sovereignty: toward an agenda

John Taylor, Tahu Kukutai (eds), 2016

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Gagudju Man

Bill Neidjie, 2002

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Fire Country: how indigenous fire management could help save Australia

Victor Steffensen, 2020

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Dark Emu

Bruce Pascoe, 2014

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Sea People

Christina Thompson, 2019

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Seeing Yolngu, seeing mathematics

Michael Cooke, 1991