Ryan Menner, Kat Dorante, 28 October, 2020

Change has been hard fought and First Nations peoples have been at the forefront of change – creating, leading and transforming research, policy, and health programs that place their own knowledge and experiences at the centre of change. But what role can non-Indigenous people and institutions can play in driving change? How can Euro-centric institutions to truly recognise the systematic barriers that are inherent to their colonisation? And how do we determine success and progress?

By focusing on the institutional and legal frameworks we also shift the responsibilities for change from individuals to the collective. Drawing on the Indigenist Research Methodology established by Dr Lester-Irabinna Rigney and the recent work of two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, we explore how and why institutional and legal frameworks need to change.

Approaching the value of culture

Political and economic appropriation and control

A resounding finding of Stephanie’s research was the way in which colonisation manifested in the political and economic appropriation and control of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Non-Indigenous businesses seek to gain profit from the exploitation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, which speaks to a broader reality in Australian society whereby Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is exploited, devalued and undermined on a daily. While intellectual property law or consumer law may provide avenues in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can explore to protect art and culture, it is still a Western system underpinned by Western values. It is therefore vital that protection for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is informed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and is accountable to the Indigenous communities in which they are designed to protect.

Ethical research and valuing community voices

Universities play a vital role in protecting people who participate in research, through the codification of ethical research. Shea Spierings (Gangulu man and PhD candidate), like many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, drew on his proximity to the research – in this instance, the impact of incarceration on Aboriginal men’s identity. Paradoxically, Shea’s proximity to the research was not considered as an inherent protection to participants but rather viewed with a higher level of caution. This caution was premised on the interpretation of the code and the research by non-Indigenous academics. Shea explained the feedback he received revealed a number of preconceived notions and misunderstandings. Similarly, the letters of support Shea had received from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations were not weighted positively.

Rigney has described Indigenist research as research which recognises the personal, community, cultural and political facets of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives in a way which allows for healing and cultural freedom. Current institutional frameworks and their ways of doing, such as those experienced by Shea, are clearly inconsistent with these principles. Re-thinking how we interpret and apply codes, and in particular who does this, will create opportunities to understand the value of social capital that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers possess when completing research in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander space. It is not the role of non-Indigenous gatekeepers in the academy to determine the value or relevancy of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander knowledge or relationships.

Fake Aboriginal artwork and rethinking legal frameworks

In both historical and contemporary times, it is evident that the Australian legal system does not adequately, nor appropriately, protect, respect or acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

The issue of fake Aboriginal art has entered Australian consumer discourse in recent years, particularly so after the report on the impact of inauthentic art and craft in the style of First Nations peoples was first tabled in December, 2018. Stephanie Parkin (Quandamooka woman and Master of Philosophy candidate) considered many of the submissions in this report made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and community members in her thesis to ensure these voices were foregrounded. Privileging Indigenous voices in research is a fundamental principle of Indigenist research.

Ensuring Indigenous perspectives are heard

Despite widespread recognition of the success of First Nations-led change there remains a reluctance of non-Indigenous, Euro-centric institutions to truly recognise the systematic barriers that are inherent to their modus operandi. Institutional and legal frameworks exist as artefacts of the ongoing process of colonisation which disproportionately harm Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a variety of ways.

Institutional frameworks, such as the codification of research ethics are often unable to recognise or value the inherent safety and richness that comes with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research. Similarly, legal frameworks fail to recognise how culture is harmed, and continues to be harmed, and as such cannot fully redress the continuous wrongs.

Indigenist research methodologies, premised on the three principles of Resistance as the Emancipatory Imperative, Political Integrity and Privileging Indigenous Voices, must be adopted throughout institutions to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, organisations and communities are heard, and change is brought about on their terms.

Over the month of October, QUT Business School are celebrating Indigenous Business Month with thought leadership and insights from different members of our community.

Authors

Ryan Menner

Ryan Menner is an government and community engagement specialist, who is concurrently the Coordinator of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Engagement Strategy and the Eidos Community Liaison Officer at the QUT Business School.

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Kat Dorante

Kat Dorante is a proud Wagadagam and Meriam woman. She is an undergraduate student at QUT and is working as an Advisor to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research Engagement Strategy.

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