Oral Presentation Lowitja Institute International Indigenous Health and Wellbeing Conference 2016

Towards sustainability: Beginning with Aboriginal knowledges (#46)

Sandra Wooltorton 1 , John Guenther 2 , Wayne Barker 3 , Leonard Collard 4
  1. Nulungu Research Institute, University of Notre Dame Australia, Broome, WA
  2. NintiOne Limited, Darwin, NT, Australia
  3. Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre, Broome, WA, Australia
  4. University of Western Australia, Perth, WA

The purpose of a sustainable development (SD) agenda is transformation. The problem is transformation towards what vision? A major problem is that much of the SD verbiage assumes a neoliberal worldview, which is associated with multi-level social and environmental crises and injustices.

The world needs substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’ as well as adaptation to limit climate change in order to avoid severe, widespread and irreversible impacts (IPCC 2014, pp. 8, 17). Critical equity issues are embedded in this problem in that the populations most vulnerable to climate change impacts tend to have contributed the least emissions. Recently there have been significant locally led changes such as an unprecedented uptake in solar technologies and local applications of the transition towns movement (Hopkins 2011, 2013). In this paper attention is given to town and community based responses to the challenge of sustainable development.

Patrick Dodson (2010) said: ‘We [Aboriginal people] have much to contribute to the world; ways of knowing and being that are going to be essential to everyone's survival on our planet’. In this paper is an argument that Aboriginal knowledges and methodologies are needed at the forefront of transformative agendas. There is a continuity of environmental sustainability knowledges and environmentally respectful protocols, and contemporary Aboriginal place-based connections and Aboriginal relational knowledges and ontologies are rich in sustainability wisdom. Therefore, any Australian model of transition-for-sustainability needs to be informed by local Aboriginal voices, histories and protocols.

In this paper perspectives from a review of an Aboriginal community school in the Kimberley and stories from a south-west Western Australian historical geography project have been used in the theoretical development of a concept of governance for sustainability transition to show use of Aboriginal knowledges for sustainability transition.

Underneath these ideas is the notion of red-dirt thinking (Osborne & Guenther, 2013), which creates linkages between Western and Aboriginal theories of knowledge. It recognises a local, place-based way of knowing and being that acknowledges the living spirit of country and its need for local languages, human and cultural health. Local protocols, histories and governance structures underpin red-dirt thinking for local sustainability transitions.

  1. Dodson, P. (2010, November 15th). Constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians is not just symbolic, Article. Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-opinion/genuine-attempt-to-write-first-peoples-into-nations-contract-20101114-17sm8.html
  2. Hopkins, R. (2011). The transition companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times. UK: Green Books.
  3. Hopkins, R. (2013). The power of just doing stuff. UK: Green Books.
  4. IPCC. (2014). Climate change 2014: synthesis report C. W. Team, R. K. Pachauri, & L. Meyer (Eds.), Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (pp. 151). Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf Retrieved from http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf
  5. Osborne, S., & Guenther, J. (2013). Red dirt thinking on aspiration and success. Australian journal of Indigenous education, 42(02), 88-99.