Section 4: Reciprocal Research and Practice

Building Indigenous Community Engagement Models

The Northern Institute: Indigenous resiliency and engagement in biosecurity threats

The research partnership between the Northern Institute of Charles Darwin University, Plant & Food Research of New Zealand, and the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre (PBCRC) with Māori and Northern Territory knowledge authorities built an engagement model for how Indigenous communities can support and lead research and environmental management on their traditional territories.

Weeds and noxious plant species and animals introduced to the Australian and New Zealand lands have significantly impacted Indigenous communities’ economic, social, and food land resources. While regulatory authorities and relevant agencies have worked with Indigenous communities, they needed to create an effective and respectful community engagement process that held Indigenous voice and knowledge.

The Aboriginal Indigenous Engagement Model was conceptualized from previous plant biosecurity operations of Mimosa pigra on Aboriginal land in Australia’s Northern Territory, which had buy-in from multiple agencies to eradicate biosecurity incursions. The work by the PBCRC’s Indigenous engagement team in building engagement models for two continents had not been attempted before. As Australian and Māori knowledge keepers converged to discuss cultural knowledge, similarities in the protocols of food preparation came forward.

The Aboriginal Indigenous Engagement Model was designed to draw parallels between the immutable stages and principles of mirrwanna seed processing and the essential steps and principles of effective community engagement. The model included the rationale for each step and the underpinning values in Aboriginal culture. For the Warramirri, Mak Mak Marranunggu, and other Yolŋu language groups, key values include:

  • Djakamirr (empowerment)
  • Raypirri-wadatj (discipline)
  • Marri-yulkthirr ga gurrutu (trust and relationships)
  • Rom (authority)
  • Nhama manymakum (respect)
  • Gumurrkunhamirr (partnership)

The Aboriginal Indigenous Engagement Model builds cross-cultural links and provides a way for communities to respond to biosecurity incursions that threaten traditional cropping practices and force the adoption of alternative cropping, surveillance, and management technologies.

These engagement models have broad application and can target government agencies and officials; research, science, and technology providers; regulatory and industry agencies involved in biosecurity incursions; and community stakeholders. The key is to develop consistency in the process used by these agencies when engaging Indigenous communities and community stakeholders. The research project is now figuring out ways to incorporate these engagement models as protocols and procedures for inclusive and relevant involvement in research and policy.

The careful collection of traditional knowledge from Elders in both Māori and Aboriginal communities created trust, understanding, and a willingness to share details that the research teams could embed in the models. It was also acknowledged that there are situations in which, for cultural reasons, information could not be shared and alternative paths were necessary. This methodology has resulted in models for engagement developed by Indigenous communities for Indigenous communities, thereby increasing the probability of adoption and success.

For more information, see the following websites:


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Pulling Together: A Guide for Researchers, Hiłḵ̓ala Copyright © 2021 by Dianne Biin; Deborah Canada; John Chenoweth; and Lou-ann Neel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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