Promoting the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in natural resource management: a case study from the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia

Gratani, Monica (2015) Promoting the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in natural resource management: a case study from the Wet Tropics of Queensland, Australia. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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The Indigenous Australian perspectives on how to live in the natural environment and use its resources has been historically marginalised in the post-contact era. Internationally however, the body of knowledge, practice and belief about the relationships between living beings and their environment held by indigenous people, often referred to as indigenous knowledge (IK), has been steadily gaining currency over the past few decades on the grounds that IK can support the biological and cultural diversity of ecosystems, can add to the understanding provided by science, and is instrumental to achieving social justice. Hence, combined with advances in Indigenous health, education and law, a higher representation of IK in Australian Natural Resource Management (NRM) is being pursued.

The application of IK in NRM is hindered by some research gaps as well as poor understanding of what IK is and attitudes towards IK. Firstly, debate about IK often implicates its relationship with science. The way and depth in which IK and science are perceived and understood determines how they are approached, and ultimately how they are integrated and used with NRM. Nevertheless, an investigation of perceptions of different knowledge systems is seldom conducted by any parties before cross-cultural NRM is attempted. Secondly, a lack of clarity exists as to whether IK or science should be considered a worldview; this conceptualisation is sometimes hinted at in the literature but not fully explored, and the implications of looking at IK as a worldview are not discussed. Finally, while integration of IK in NRM is happening in practice, there are few theoretical frameworks and little academic debate. There is a need to discuss more theoretical aspects of integration processes. My thesis sets out to address these knowledge gaps through a participatory case study conducted in collaboration with the Malanbarra and Dulabed Yidinji people, traditional owners of a UNESCO heritage area within the Wet Tropics of Queensland in tropical northern Australia.

I began by exploring local Indigenous and non-Indigenous NRM experts' perceptions of IK and science, and their integration in cross-cultural NRM (Chapter 3). In this initial phase of the study, I found that, (1) in terms of knowledge, conceptualising integration of different NRM perspectives was limiting, and IK is perceived as a worldview; (2) issues relating to the epistemological understanding of different knowledge systems and their mutual recognition need to be addressed to promote use in NRM; (3) platforms for collaborative knowledge validation need to be specifically developed; and (4) environmental values and ethic are essential parts of IK as a worldview, hence integrating different values is necessary for cross-cultural NRM. My exploration of these themes adds to the current understanding of IK in the Wet Tropics. The findings from Chapter 3 provided research directions that I tackle in the following data chapters.

In Chapter 4, I research conceptualisation of IK and, based on data from my field work and surveys and a systematic review of the literature, I propose that IK should be conceptualised as worldview. I found that themes discussed during my surveys with IK holders and in the literature on integration of IK in NRM align with dimensions of worldviews, as outlined in the worldview literature and, in particular, a model of the "worldview" theorised in the 1990s by the philosophers Apostel and Van der Veken. Based on my results, I argue that the debate on integration should not revolve around integrating IK and science – or scientific knowledge – but rather focus on developing an integrative worldview.

In Chapter 5 I further develop the importance of integrating different environmental values and ethics for NRM. I use a framework to relate human values to environmental ethics that was developed in the field of environmental psychology and is informed by the theory of universal human values prepared by Schwartz. My results show that the community of Indigenous Australians I collaborated with holds altruistic values and an eco-centric environmental ethic. My study is the first in Australia to look at indigenous environmental values as human values through the lens of Schwartz's universal theory of human values. In this chapter I also propose to use such theory as a platform to understanding and integrating different environmental values.

In Chapter 6, I tackle the perceived need in my study area for a better understanding of the epistemological recognition of IK. I do this by shedding some light on the current processes of knowledge production used to produce IK, and I also look at how such processes could be integrated with scientific processes. In this chapter I also discuss how collaborative environmental monitoring and joint hypothesis setting and testing can support the epistemological validity of IK and ultimately cross-cultural NRM in the Wet Tropics. Moreover, the chapter presents an indigenous worldview-informed monitoring system for freshwater environments as an avenue for fostering inclusion of indigenous worldviews in NRM.

In Chapter 7, I design a platform to support knowledge sharing and validation for NRM. My study brings to light and discusses in favorable terms the process of "validation", which is often perceived as disrespectful to indigenous people. My results for this chapter suggest validation is a natural process of the human mind in seeking to understand, and that collaborative and respectful validation has great potential in building mutual exchange of understanding around the natural world. I argue the adoption of such a platform for knowledge validation by Wet Tropics NRM agencies would increase our understanding and use of IK.

My final discussion, Chapter 8, further develops some themes recurrent in my thesis, and I conclude that, (1) the satisfactory inclusion of IK in Wet Tropics NRM would be achieved by indigenising NRM, and by infusing the eco-centric values and ethic that is held by local indigenous communities, which may also increase the sustainability of local NRM; (2) validation and integration are processes favorable to the representation of IK in NRM; and, finally, (3) the constructivist approach to knowledge production and action research are instrumental to ensuring IK is truly represented in Australian cross-cultural NRM.

Item ID: 43662
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Aboriginal Australians; Australia; Dulabed Malanbarra people; environment; environmental monitoring; ethics; First Australians; IK; Indigenous Australians; indigenous knowledge; natural resource management; NRM; QLD; Queensland; traditional ecological knowledge; values; Wet Tropics; Yidinji people
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Copyright Information: Copyright © 2015 Monica Gratani.
Additional Information:

Publications arising from this thesis are available from the Related URLs field. The publications are:

Chapter 3: Gratani, Monica, Bohensky, Erin L., Butler, James R.A., Sutton, Stephen G., and Foale, Simon (2014) Experts' perspectives on the integration of Indigenous knowledge and science in Wet Tropics natural resource management. Australian Geographer, 45 (2). pp. 167-184.

Chapter 6: Gratani, Monica, Butler, James R.A., Royee, Frank, Valentine, Peter, Burrows, Damien, Canendo, Warren I., and Anderson, Alex S. (2011) Is validation of Indigenous ecological knowledge a disrespectful process? A case study of traditional fishing poisons and invasive fish management from the Wet Tropics, Australia. Ecology and Society, 16 (3). pp. 1-14.

Gratani, Monica, and Butler, James R.A. (2010) Stepping out of our paradigm: a path for the integration of scientific and traditional ecological knowledge in natural resource management. In: Proceedings of the 4th International Traditional Knowledge Conference 2010, pp. 115-118. From: 4th International Traditional Knowledge Conference, 6–9 June 2010, Auckland, New Zealand.

Date Deposited: 13 Apr 2016 23:08
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Environmental Knowledge @ 34%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160403 Social and Cultural Geography @ 33%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050206 Environmental Monitoring @ 33%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9503 Heritage > 950304 Conserving Intangible Cultural Heritage @ 50%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960599 Ecosystem Assessment and Management not elsewhere classified @ 50%
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