'Respect' links knowledge systems for researchers 


Eight Indigenous researcher-consultants, most of them from east Arnhem Land have thrown light on research issues associated with working between two knowledge systems.

The researchers took part in a public seminar at Charles Darwin University recently which focused on Aboriginal knowledge and collaborative research, and approaches to achieving community support and engagement.

The seminar was hosted by the School of Australian Indigenous Knowledge Systems and the School of Education.

All members of the panel agreed on the need for consultation and negotiation with Aboriginal elders as well as the community as a whole in any research venture.

Indigenous researcher Associate Professor Terry Dunbar, of the School of Education, said that reaching agreement was one of constant negotiation.

“You can do it up front and think it’s finished, but it’s not,” she said.

“Seeking agreement is generally a continual process throughout the project. You have to take time with relationship-building, and with research.

“I may be Aboriginal but that doesn’t mean I have the right to examine someone else’s country. I need to seek their permission and do it in a respectful way,” she said.

Elaine Lawurrpa, who has worked with Terry on a number of consultancy projects, said she believed that one of the most important ways a researcher could build relationships was to feed back to the community the findings of their research.

“Feedback gives the community knowledge,” she said.

Knowledge, particularly knowledge about themselves, empowered the community.

Indigenous communities were frustrated with traditional academic approaches.

“(Instead) give us all the information and tell us what is really going on.

“It shows respect to share this knowledge,” she said.

While the importance of respect was acknowledged by everyone at the discussion, it was revealed that the Aboriginal concept of respect differed from non-Indigenous people’s notions in fundamental ways.

The panel agreed that researchers should be willing to share their own stories if they expected others to share theirs.

Associate Professor Helen Verran, of the University of Melbourne, who was in the audience, revealed her experiences of conducting research in remote communities.

Dr Verran is collaborating with CDU on an ARC linkage project investigating Indigenous knowledge and resource management in northern Australia.

She spoke about how she discovered that learning and accepting the respect of the people of the community as a ”learner” was an important step in gaining respect and trust within Indigenous communities.

She said that when she first came to conduct her research, the people in the community already knew and respected her as a researcher and educator, but they needed time to respect her as a ”learner” and to see also that she respected herself as a “learner” before they came to really trust her.

“It’s not as important as we might think to show respect for others, but it’s crucial to respect ourselves as a ‘learner’,” Dr Verran said. “By doing this, we show respect for everyone.”