• Rangers burning on country at the Ninu (Bilby) Festival (Supplied/NITV)
Indigenous scientists understand that resilience and sustainability go hand-in-hand and in order to create a sustainable ecosystem, you have to understand the sciences of nature to embed this into everyday life guided by seasons and traditional law.
By
Luke Briscoe

7 Sep 2017 - 4:28 PM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2017 - 4:16 PM

#ThreatedSpeciesDay raises awareness of the rapid loss of Australian wildlife and urges empathy for our native animals. The statistics are alarming, with nearly 100 critically endangered species in the county quickly declining like a sinking dinghy disappearing underwater. When the issue at hand can feel like cupping water out of a leaking boat, it’s easy to feel helpless. What can we do to support such fragile creatures? 

There are a number of conservation and environmental groups that work tirelessly to bring some of these issues to light - but with more and more species continuously disappearing every day, Australia must explore every means possible to save its wildlife. This includes harnessing the hidden truths within Indigenous culture.

Indigenous knowledge can provide deeper insight into how to build resilient ecosystems for native animals to thrive and remain alive. Resilience allows us to cope and prepare for drastic changes that impact our lives, and one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals discusses how cities need to be more 'resilient and sustainable'. Our ecosystems need this too, and through sophisticated sciences Indigenous people have been building resilience within ecosystems for animals and other living organisms to thrive and survive. 

Indigenous scientists understand that resilience and sustainability go hand-in-hand and in order to create a sustainable ecosystem, you have to understand the sciences of nature to embed this into everyday life guides by seasons and traditional law. Examples of environmental sustainable resilience include controlled fire burn offs, which is now a part of just about every community in Australia. The burn offs were not only a way to help ecosystems become more resilient but, also through time, allowed this process to be a part of people's own culture. 

However, Indigenous sciences come with challenges. Today, a reoccurring rhetoric of terra-nullius exists in the science sector, with many scientists claiming to have ‘discovered’ new species of animal or plant. This can be highly disrespectful for Indigenous people who have known about these species for a long time, and even have names for them.

Bruce Pascoe, Indigenous agriculturalist and the author of Dark Emu, told NITV that the lack of respect Europeans have for any other knowledge but their own is having a critical impact on the environment.   

‘European scientists like to use the word ‘discovered’ to explain their first sight of an animal known and protected by Australian Aboriginal people for 100,000 years. It is an indication that Europeans have no respect for any knowledge but their own. The Earth is suffering from that arrogance,’ Pascoe says.

Indigenous people have protest these threatened species for a very long time and it’s through an understanding of very sophisticated-sustainable-sciences built on resilience that these creatures have survived. They have survived through very tough times, but sadly no one could prepare for what was to come when the British arrived and wiped out whole species. 

Environmentalist and broadcaster, Dr David Suzuki told NITV that Indigenous people don’t view or value species as resources, but rather relatives, and therefore, beings we should treat with love and respect.

“Indigenous people around the world speak of other species, not as resources or opportunity, but as ‘relatives’. In Canada, Indigenous people have elaborate clan systems in which the totemic characters are salmon, wolves, bears, cedar, fireweed, and so on. I have been adopted by the Haida people into the eagle clan while my wife and daughters are ravens.” Dr Suzuki says.  

We are made by thousands of genes that are identical to those in chimpanzees, our pet dogs and cats, salmon, cedar and whales. They are our relatives and surely the way we treat and interact with our relatives begins with love and respect. 

“And modern genetics verifies that this perspective is correct. We are made by thousands of genes that are identical to those in chimpanzees, our pet dogs and cats, salmon, cedar and whales. They are our relatives and surely the way we treat and interact with our relatives begins with love and respect. That is what I have learned from my Indigenous brothers and sisters in many parts of the world.”

It’s widely understood that Indigenous people have developed a strong bond with native species from living in this country for thousands of years, one example being the wombat. palawa woman and NITV Project Manager, Rhanna Collins says that language is an important link between cultural identity, connection and ecology.  

“There are various Aboriginal names for the wombats in Tasmania – southern hairy nosed, northern hairy nosed and bare-nosed wombat – some of these names have been sadly lost due to the history in Tasmania. My totem is the wombat. The palawa kani word for wombat is prupilathina (pronounced: pru pee lah dthee nah). This means I am the custodian of the wombat story,” Collins says.

“Language is an important link between cultural identity and connection, calling animals, plants and places by their first names - their Aboriginal names - is a mark of respect to our culture. This is particularly important in a place like Tasmania where the language had been sleeping for such a long time.”

Something as simple as using Aboriginal names gives more contexts to the animals themselves - animals that date back to, and have prospered, for thousands of years. By calling the animals by their Indigenous names is a step towards respecting Indigenous culture and also understanding more about how the animals fit into the complex ecosystems that Indigenous people are experts in. These names and stories provide a deeper understanding of the resilient nature of the once one harmed ecosystems.

Renee Cawthorne is one of Australia’s leading Indigenous STEM educators, a Biologist and Co-Chairs an Indigenous led global sustainable science group The STREAMS Network.

Renee told NITV, "Indigenous led conservation and environmental businesses guided by well-funded Indigenous science can help build the much needed resilient ecosystems for the threatened species to live.'

Indigenous knowledge can provide an understanding to how the old people protected and maintained resilient ecosystems - ecosystems that enablee many species to survive other catastrophic events, beyond colonisation. But perhaps it’s a resilience in ourselves that we need to address in that, we aren’t above nature, but we are one with nature.   

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The STREAMS Network is specifically for education and cultural leaders in the science, technology and innovation space. Through the STREAMS Network you can make new connections, find new ways to collaborate on ethical and culturally sounds research and projects that aim to sustain our communities and environments.