24 November 2000

A University of Queensland researcher is setting up the first-ever international knowledge exchange program focused on land and sea management between Australian and American indigenous communities.

Senior lecturer with both the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Archaeology and the School of Natural and Rural Systems Management Dr
Annie Ross said the exchange program would inform mainstream land management authorities on better ways to manage resources such as fish-stocks, fire and land animal populations.

"My previous studies have shown that the Quandamooka community on North Stradbroke Island and the Squaxin Island people involved in the North-West Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia, Washington State, share the same, holistic approach to fishing," Dr Ross said.

"There are also complicated rules about how many fish you can take, when you take them, the age of the fish caught and the treatment of the fish once caught. There are similar spiritual reasons for the careful preparation of fish-they must be treated with respect otherwise they will not return the next year.

"These communities also share similar holistic views of land management. In other words, keeping the oceans healthy and the fish available starts with inland rivers, wetlands and what happens to the water during its journey to the sea.

"This knowledge has been developed over tens of thousands of years and has survived the coming of white settlers and their assimilation programs. They are extremely valuable and responsible ideas and knowledge which can be integrated into our mainstream land management programs.

"The knowledge of indigenous peoples is not well-recognised because of the spiritual way it is expressed. It is seen as not standing up to scientific rigour however despite being simply put, it is deep-seated and scientists must sit up and take notice. There is a clear role in mainstream land management agencies for indigenous people skilled in their traditional knowledge."

In collaboration with anthropologist Dr Kathleen Pickering of Colorado State University, Dr Ross plans to bring together representatives of two indigenous Australian communities-the Quandamooka people of South-East Queensland and the Mutitjulu people of the Northern Territory-with elders from two American indigenous communities-the Squaxin Islanders and the Lakota people of South Dakota (part of the Sioux Nation).

Dr Ross said the main differences between indigenous Australian and American communities in the area of resource management was that the US groups often had treaties enshrining their rights to hunting and fishing resources dating back to the 1850s while no such treaties existed in Australia.

"Australian indigenous peoples have been able to recently obtain such rights through the Native Title Act but this is not as powerful as the treaties existing in the US," she said.

Drs Ross and Pickering are urgently seeking further funding to assist them to set up the exchange program.

For more information, contact Dr Annie Ross (telephone 07 3365 1450 or 07 5460 1480) or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications (telephone 07 3365 2339).