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Decolonising the Concept of Knowledge

Paper presentation at the HERDSA98 Conference in Auckland
by Victor Hart & Sue Whatman
Queensland University of Technology Brisbane, Australia &


Controlling the definition of what was essentially a subjugated culture, the colonisers reserve the power to distinguish authentic aspects of the living traditions of the colonised. If the colonised argue political demands by reference to their culture, the colonisers are quick to adjudicate what is genuine in such claims. (Fannon, 1967)

Since colonial invasions, Australia’s Indigenous people have weathered rapid change. While the origins of Australia’s Indigenous peoples continues to be an archaeological interest for many, how Indigenous cultures have survived, transformed and retained a sense of ‘difference’ is fundamental to understanding the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures within this continent as both contemporaneous and historical.

It is important that teachers, students and researchers within Indigenous studies remind themselves that much of the literature on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders can be ideologically traced back to the emergence of ‘knowledge’ about native peoples in the context of European imperialism and expansion from the fifteenth century. Care must therefore be taken in not conveying ‘scientific’ rational knowledge as perhaps the hidden agenda or notion of assumptions of European ‘superiority’ and non-European inferiority.

The recognition by the High Court of Australia (1992) abandoned the legal myth of terra nullius which based the dispossession of Indigenous land on the basis of it being considered an empty land. It could also be argued that this decision recognised that distinct customs and traditions continue to exist within the social and cultural ‘knowledge’ of Indigenous peoples of Australia.

General issues and concerns relating to research design, methodology and articulation within QUT are not just confined to this university and the research project presented as a case study but are important in dealing with how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and academics participate or are employed within the university. We feel that the design and methodology of research that either covertly or overtly focuses on Indigenous Australians can no longer presume that all research will naturally follow protocols that are culturally appropriate as this appropriateness is usually defined by the institution.

By no means do we feel that research should be debilitated as a result of raising these issues, but that collaborative approaches within the ‘process’ of research will address Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities as much as the intended outcomes of research itself. Incorporation of models of research must begin to be developed so as to recognise that the customs and traditions (as knowledge) of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders are recognised as intellectual property in relation to claims on land and seas. Moreover, it should not be presumed that these customs and traditions no longer exist merely because the propensity of claims to land and seas no longer has tenure. They continue to be an important part of Aboriginal communities and should be given recognition within research undertaken by universities. Mabo (2) clearly states:

A native title which has ceased with the abandoning of laws and customs based on tradition cannot be revived for contemporary recognition. Australian law can protect the interests of members of an Indigenous clan or group, whether communally or individually, only in conformity with the traditional laws and customs of the people to whom the clan or group belongs and only where members of the clan or group acknowledge those laws and observe those customs (so far as it is practicable to do so).

In line with historic recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples, a Draft Declaration was formulated by the Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP), which had been established by the United Nations Economic and Social Council in May 1986. Article 12 of the Draft Declaration recognised the right of Indigenous peoples to practice and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs, including the right: maintain, protect and develop the past, present and future manifestations of their cultures, such as ...artefacts, designs, ceremonies, technologies and visual and performing arts and literature, as well as the right to the restitution of cultural, intellectual, religious and spiritual property taken without their free and informed consent or in violation of their laws, traditions and customs.

In what ways may this then have influence on how research is being conducted where ‘knowledge’ as a recognised legal commodity of Indigenous peoples is being examined or plays an important role in how research is designed, carried and disseminated? For over two hundred years Aborigines and the peoples of the Torres Strait have been subject to undisciplined research and analysis. The premise of most research and analysis has been locked into the belief that Indigenous Australians are anachronisms and, in defiance of the laws of evolution, remain a curiosity of nature, and are "fair game" for research. The overt and covert presumptions underwriting all research and analysis into Indigenous Australian cultures is the inherent view of the superiority of Non-Indigenous society’s cultures.

The argument presented here is not simply about recognising or reorganising research methodologies to incorporate Indigenous decision making processes even though this is of great importance; but that research methodologies within research projects continue to employ the processes that disallow for a greater appreciation within the activity of research itself.

From this position, Indigenous people are able to present hypotheses, test theory against data and make general and specific conclusions, publish and contribute to the knowledge base in their own communities. If researchers are representing the institutions that are supporting their studies, it seems practical if not clearly ethical that institutions embark on negotiating research agreements that set out the principles by which ‘knowledge’ is extracted.

Examine the role of academics teaching within research projects. Their methods of research are found to be intrinsic to how teaching and assessment strategies are constructed around a normative acceptance of how students learn. Learning ‘Aboriginal’ history has unfortunately been seen as a substitute for exploring other means to empowering all students to learn, and to become responsible for their own learning on such issues beyond the academy.

Just as regional agreements have been developed between Indigenous peoples, mining and other interests groups, the need to renegotiate the ‘ownership’ of knowledge between universities and Indigenous peoples seems inevitable. What are some possible models for negotiating something as intangible as ‘knowledge’? It seems eminent that a process of negotiation should at least be discussed within universities in terms of their institutional base acquiring knowledge from people that are at the lowest end of the socio economic ladder, as the gamut of research done in Indigenous communities has already proven.


The reform of Australian universities and how they view the world that surrounds them must first attend to how accessible and credible they are as banks of information and education to the subjects of their study. Regional agreements between universities and communities are not just a possibility but almost a certainty if one considers the increasing interest that Indigenous people are attracting overseas. Regional agreements allow that opportunity to occur . Accordingly, ATSIC, the peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authority in Australia believes the concept of regional agreements need not, and should not, be restricted to the native title context or to specific geographic regions of Australia. It can be applied to a varying extent in a range of circumstances in which Indigenous people live. The basic principles developed to inform a regional agreement policy should therefore be relevant to a range of regional circumstances and be able to accommodate a variety of Indigenous interests. Research should be seen as one of these primary interests in how communities self empower and equip themselves for both the national and global market while simultaneously attending to how they develop strategies that impact on their communities on a daily basis (Lui Jnr, 1994). Issues related to health, education and employment must be begin to be seen as intimately related to other socio-economic variables. Universities have a unique place to play in how these outcomes may be achieved.

Marginson (1998, p.359) recently reminded us of the 'classical English view of the University, derived principally from Newman’s (1959) argument...(that) " the role of the university is said to lie in the cultivation of mental powers and sensibilities through the pursuit of truth". Academic researchers expected to be "free to pursue the Truth and no other goal or the Truth itself is to be compromised" (Marginson, 1998, p.359). Essentially, universities were seen "as self-referencing while, at the same time, they were free to range as widely (or as narrowly) as they pleased" (Marginson, 1998, p. 360). While Marginson’s reflections were intended to contextualise current debates in academia about government regulation of academic research interests, it serves as a timely reminder as to how narrow indeed the pursuit of truth has been in Indigenous community research.

Marginson (1998, p.361, p.362) also discussed two prevalent conditions of the development of knowledges in universities, both concerned with power relations. First, research is shaped and sanctioned by governments, through the reliance of researchers on government funding for projects. A brief glance through ARC, NMHRC, and Teaching and Learning/Technology Large Grants criteria, to name but a few, shows the obligatory terms of reference in which research into Indigenous issues is permanently featured. Second, and more insidiously, knowledges in universities are often shaped by "self-governing academics" whose research purposes are dictated by the desire to "secure monopolies of knowledge" rather than the expansion of frontiers (Slaughter, 1991; in Marginson, 1998, p.362). Many Indigenous research "experts" abound in academia, whose continued activities in the research field serve to ensure that their voices are heard, rather than Indigenous voices. A recent review of barriers facing Indigenous post graduate students (CAPA, 1997) echoed the frustration of being guided towards non-Indigenous "Indigenous research experts". As Fredericks (1996) explained;

There are issues still of some non-Indigenous people being regarded as Indigenous experts and Indigenous students being directly referred to them as supervisors. There have been instances where this has resulted in conflicts and where the students have felt uneasy about disclosing information for fear that the supervisor would misuse information for their own purposes.

In instances where postgraduate students may have located a suitable, highly qualified Indigenous person from the community to supervise their work, university regulations often prevented the arrangement from being formally recognised (Fredericks, 1996). Having completed a Ph.D, or being employed in the faculty through which the student is enrolled, may be prerequisites for supervisors, which effectively prevents postgraduate students from obtaining Indigenous supervision. With 0.3% of all post graduate students being Indigenous, but only 0.01% of tertiary sector workers (mostly non-academic) being Indigenous (CAPA, 1997, p.6; Runciman, 1994), there is little chance of Indigenous experts meeting university criteria for supervisors. At QUT, there are only two Indigenous academics who would meet the criteria for formally supervising postgraduate students. Yet, in 1997, 0.02% of all postgraduate research, identified by the QUT Ethics Committee, was conducted into Indigenous issues (Goninon, 1998). This only includes research which was self-described by the applicant as concerning Indigenous issues; Goninon (1998) concedes that the real figure would be much higher. The reliance on self-disclosure ensures that those applicants who have not fulfilled appropriate protocols may never have to! Additionally, this situation forces postgraduate students to seek out non-Indigenous academics with Ph.Ds who may or may not have had experience with the community or issue in question, which then perpetuates the cycle by portraying the supervisors as "experts" who will be sought out by, and recommended to, future post graduate students.

The anthropological, colonising approach to conducting research into Indigenous communities has sought to fix Indigenous cultures in time: unchanging, prehistoric, different. As Brah (1992 : 143) noted, such an approach is grounded in the discourse of racism, which seeks to "fix and naturalize ‘difference’ and create impervious boundaries between groups", subordinating ethnicities of the colonized world. Such an approach continues to delimit the type and usefulness of research conducted in Indigenous communities. Consider common research problems posed for Indigenous community research: why is their health status STILL so poor? Why aren’t Indigenous students finishing school? What’s causing Indigenous peoples’ drug and alcohol problems? The non-Indigenous researcher who approaches a community with a view to identifying and then solving their problems for them merely perpetuates the cycle of subordination, through isolating and problematising the group (defined as ‘other’). Nakata (1997, 1995) has often warned of the limitations of such an approach in educational research and of the limited use of such research to the communities for which ‘benefit’ of the research was intended.

This does not mean that research should proceed as what could be deemed as a managerial imposition of a false consensus upon a conflict with a view to organising it, containing it, and using it for its own research outcomes or political ends. It must be recognised that the ‘problem’ can be of more importance to researchers than for the community they reside in. Merely getting acceptance for the carrying out of research (as a means to an end) will only recreate and act as buffers which effectively insulate researchers from the scrutiny and demands of the Indigenous community. This image of researchers acting in ‘isolation’ and ‘non-interference’ with other parts of the community dynamic issues, whose causal effects are systemic, may be ignored. The substitution of the primary goal of research has influenced the context in which strategies will be pursued. Whereas the research project may in fact have emphasised the need to empower Indigenous people, current research methodologies only reinforce strategies and programs focusing on "Aboriginal problem behaviour" for which research is considered ‘important’, but for whom?.

From this perspective, it is evident that Australia's Indigenous people are excluded from defining the values of research that our educational system and its instruments are charged to effect, while at the same time 'considered' inclusive in the acceptance of these values because there is a perception of research contributing to the well-being of the community.

Self-Determination versus Self-Management

It is worthwhile pointing out two well known ideals of Indigenous communities and empowerment, self-determination and self-management;

Self-determination refers to the right of a culture, society or region to decide for itself whether its future will be as an independent sovereign entity in the world, or whether, like Nunavat, its people accept association with or integration in an existing national constitutional order.
Self-management is a delegated function whereby a group or some type of formal authority carries out tasks with funds and program design determined by others outside the group or region. A welfare office on Indigenous land may be staffed by local people and may hand out the cheques and carry out other welfare functions within the guidelines of a higher authority. (Jull, 1991, p.54)

Self-determination suggests having the choice of the types of research required by communities. Self-management implies that the types of research being conducted in communities are merely a delegated function of the state.

In examining these two constructs of how Indigenous communities react to research requests, it must be born in mind that there is conclusive evidence that racism is the basic foundation upon which historical, anthropological, and linguistic research is built. The problems lie within research practices and uncritical acceptance that research (as a mode of extracting knowledge and implanting certain knowledge) does not impact on how this same knowledge could disempower Indigenous communities before, during and after its articulation. Nakata (1997) and Scheurich (1997) illustrated this point when critiquing Williamson’s (1997a) report, and defence of his report (1997b), into decolonising historiography of colonial education in the Torres Strait. Williamson’s assertion that empirical evidence, grounded by internal and external referents, was more accurate than any other form of evidence, including what he described as Islander’s "popular memory" (1997b, p.437) merely perpetuates the cycle of disempowerment by producing research which is "still history from the colonizer’s perspective, and thus it is a history which misunderstands and, even, diminishes the experience and view of the colonized Other" (Scheurich, 1997 : 404).

There are a number of other assumptions commonly made which contribute to the cycle of community disempowerment in research endeavours, including;

a) the assumed right of researchers to undertake research into the culture of Indigenous Australians;

b) the notion that cultural knowledge recorded in research reports is the only legitimate or lasting medium to protect knowledge and data exposed by such research;

c) that research needs to expose apparent dominant and latent primitivism of Indigenous societies;

d) the assumption that all knowledge, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge, should be placed in the public domain;

e) that only non-Indigenous researchers do research well;

f) the belief that the privatisation of knowledge is not a social or cultural premise in Indigenous Australian cultures;

g) the assumption that the right of all people to access all knowledge is also an Indigenous cultural absolute;

h) the belief that the apparent absence of sophisticated Indigenous infra- structural mechanisms to maintain cultural continuity requires Western research and techniques to preserve culture;

i) the apparent right of a conquering nation’s intellectuals to both exploit Indigenous Australians and promote their own status and self-esteem by investigative analysis and historical research. (James Cook University, 1995)

With these delimiting factors in existence, how would a postgraduate student, or an academic, hoping to pursue knowledge in a particular Indigenous communities proceed in a culturally appropriate, protocol-acknowledging way? Moreover, is there a need for an overarching process of negotiation between universities and communities that identify the roles and objectives of researchers?

What is presented below is a discussion of principles which could be adapted through negotiation between universities and communities to provide a guide to how researchers approach given situations, and where research may be conducted.

Principles for institutions to negotiate with communities

Culturally appropriate research protocols are not new research or consultative inventions. There have been several significant guides published to assist researchers with starting out, including the CAPA Indigenous Postgraduate report (1997), James Cook University Research Ethics Guide (1995),University of South Australia research guide, University of Tasmania research guide, and specific advice for particular styles of research, such as that offered by Donovan and Spark (1997) and Flick (1995). Some of the common features of such guides include the following:

These protocols must underlie the research plan developed and followed by any researcher (Indigenous or non-Indigenous) working with an Indigenous community.

While these types of research tools may coordinate individual research by academics in ‘culturally appropriate’ ways, there must be a greater awareness of the institutions (both universities and others) from where researchers and projects are economically driven that negotiations must begin to take place on a much more macro level with communities. Researchers continue to presume that their institutional home base is somehow separated from the means by which they conduct their research within the ‘village’ or community.

Regional agreements, such as that which occurred between Aborigines, pastoralists and greens in Cape York offer one model that should be seriously considered by universities in conjunction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. On February 6, 1996 the Cape York Peninsula Heads of Agreement was signed by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Peninsula Regional Council, the Cape York Land Council, the Cattleman's Union of Australia, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society. The agreement expresses a commitment by all parties to the development of "a management regime for ecologically, economically, socially and culturally sustainable land use on the Cape York Peninsula" (Harri, 1994). Under Heads of Agreement, the Aboriginal people gain a tangible working agreement for the resolution of native title issues by negotiation rather than litigation, while cattlemen gain security in relation to native title.

Under existing intellectual property laws, Indigenous knowledge is not protected by copyright laws in this country. There is scope for universities to recognise that the research being conducted in Indigenous communities could be sanctioned through a negotiative process that clearly outlines how current and future research could either remain the sole property of the community or as joint ownership between the university and the community. Currently, the completed work of researchers within the university remains the sole property of the university. As such, the actual work conducted by researchers remains the joint property of the researcher and the university in most cases and while communities may receive copies of the research outcomes, its ability to utilise it, expand on it and even commodify it is somewhat limited.

If knowledge about Indigenous peoples, their customs, traditions, educational needs or health is the focus of research, then it seems quite practicable that agreements between Indigenous people and their communities in tangible ways is a means of resolving and empowering the research needs of communities, around the threat of litigation. Knowledge, as Indigenous people will attest, must be understood as a sustainable resource, not something that is a passive part of how communities reproduce their cultures, traditions and customs from year to year. For the greater part, Indigenous communities in Australia are reacting to the research interests of institutions, or their individual researchers who in many cases negotiate the scope and essence of the research they are conducting. In a more pro-active role, they would be able to identify the research they require within their communities and set up appropriate procedures and protocols that would allow researchers to enter their research environment, their modes of producing knowledge.

There are other compelling reasons for why agreements between university researchers to adhere to such procedures and to be also aware that they are researching with a cultural dynamic where other protocols may arise and supersede those previously mentioned. Qualitative research methodologies, in the form of ethnographic, intrinsic case study, provides a strong rationale for thorough community involvement to ensure the integrity of the research outcomes. Consider the evidence of support for the previously mentioned criteria in the literature.

Negotiating Research Outcomes: A Torres Strait Case Study Community Benefit and Negotiating Ongoing Permission

What will be left behind after you have completed your research? This is the most important question in determining how beneficial the research would be to any community. Ideally, tangible outcomes such as procedures, changes in practice, ongoing community empowerment (through the sharing of knowledge and training), and workable infrastructure would exist. In this case study of health education in the Torres Strait, the creation of new community decision-making structures, modified curriculum development approaches and the training of Indigenous researchers based in the community were just some of the outcomes negotiated between relevant sections of the community and the researcher.

Before even contemplating the initiation of a research project, the researcher needs to be clear of who the ‘community’ actually is. Archaic notions of community may make its identification a difficult task, as the community itself may not necessarily be defined by close physical proximity between members i.e. going to a ‘village’ to see the ‘community’. Indigenous communities comprise many organisations which are responsible for protecting and maintaining specific knowledges. In the Torres Strait, the Torres Strait Regional Education Council (TSIREC) is the ‘community’ who are responsible for all education matters. Similarly, the Torres Strait Health Council (TSHC) is the ‘community’ responsible for all health matters. A research project which is conceptualised by the researcher as combining those knowledges would need to approach and negotiate with both groups, in order to achieve ‘community consultation and negotiation’.

If universities were to undertake regional agreements with communities, the identification of appropriate groups to approach with research ideas could be clearly articulated beforehand. This would eliminate the wastage of time that many community organisations and individuals freely give to researchers, many of whom may not be cognisant of the paths worn by previous research ventures.

As with business, 'cold calling' community groups may not bring any response. The appropriate way is for someone in the community who knows you to introduce you and your request to the appropriate groups or organisations who will need to give their approval before you can proceed. Seeking approval should not be considered as merely a beginning and final proposal to the research project but an ongoing process of negotiating Indigenous ‘knowledge’ about themselves, their community and any matter that relates to how the research is progressing.

A key component of any interaction with Indigenous communities is revealing your background. The community needs to know who you are, where you come from, what your purpose is (related to the first point) and what assumptions you bring with you. Middleton’s (1996, p.18 ) observation that ‘historicity’ is a legitimate feature of qualitative research strongly supports this expectation. The inclusion of the standpoint from which the researcher’s voice originates contributes to better research by revealing the processes which are normally hidden behind the "mask of disembodied uninvolvement" which traditional approaches have required (Middleton, 1996, p.18). Eisenhart and Howe (1992, p.659) noted that a compulsory standard for ensuring validity in educational research is that "assumptions and goals embedded (by the researcher) in the development and conduct of the study must be exposed and considered". Ultimately, the community reserves the right to determine if you are a suitable person with whom to negotiate the research project, according to their criteria, rather than academic criteria. For example, in this case study, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Policy was considered to be an important influence on school curricula in the first instance. Such an assumption would shape the questions asked, strategies used and people approached in the study.

Hiding your true agenda from the community will not result in the receipt of approval. Indigenous communities have seen so many researchers come and go, will little or no lasting community benefit remaining from their projects, that they can easily distinguish genuine disclosure from academic rhetoric. In the year that the application in this case study was submitted for approval to another sub-set of the community, the School Council, in May 1996, over 40 educationally-themed research applications had also been received (Garrett, 1996). The submission to the School Council had already passed through several other community organisations beforehand and was approved. It was one of only two successful applications, meaning researchers had only a 5% chance that year of proceeding with their project, with appropriate approval. If you were faced with a 95% failure rate in gaining community approval, would you proceed anyway? And if you did, would your research truly be of benefit to the community?

The importance of community permission before commencing research has been stipulated by qualitative researchers for some years. Stake (1994, p.244) noted that "case studies often deal with matters..for which there is neither public nor scholarly ‘right to know’", adding that funding nor 'scholarly intent' give license to the researcher to invade the privacy of others. The imperative for establishing community permission could not be stated any clearer.

Keeping community involved from start to finish

Donovan and Spark (1997, p.91) noted that research, or "information gathering", is regarded by many Indigenous communities as an exchange process, as a part of establishing then maintaining a reciprocal relationship. Researchers who obtain community permission to commence a project and then have no further contact with the community cannot possibly establish such reciprocity. It also begs the question of how beneficial the research possibly could be if the community cannot ascertain progress at any given point.

Miles and Huberman (1994) noted that qualitative data collection should follow a ‘wave pattern’ of collection and verification. Lincoln and Guba (1985, p.296) insisted that naturalistic inquiry should reconstruct the perspectives of those being studied and that having the respondents approve of the researchers’ interpretations was integral for achieving this aim. Exactly how the respondents are enabled to review such interpretations are to be negotiated, for example, through written documents, follow-up interviews, and/or oral presentation.

Ongoing community involvement can be achieved in many ways. In this Torres Strait case study, a reference panel was established with local community members. The panel had been thoroughly involved from the beginning with the protocols of establishing community permission through to recommending methods of data verification and reporting procedures. Second, the community groups from whom permission was initially sought were structured in such a way that regular feedback could be incorporated as agenda items of their meetings, as they preferred. Both written and oral presentations at the meetings were recommended and this was achieved through regular visits to the Torres Strait.

The community also negotiated how feedback from the research would be used at any given point. For example, TSIREC asked to give a particular research progress report to the Director-General of Education in order to illustrate some of their own professional activities; their involvement with the development of the research. The report was used as leverage to achieve some of the broader educational outcomes desired by the community, such as a regional agreement between the Education Queensland and local schools on future curriculum development processes.

Acknowledging contributions by and respecting confidentiality of community members

As research into an Indigenous community is an exchange process, and indeed, a part of the community’s intellectual property rights, the contribution of members who wish to be identified is of paramount importance. As mentioned above, the TSIREC ‘ownership’ over the research into health education in the Torres Strait was acknowledged through a submission passed onto the Director-General of Education and other education personnel. Similarly, as qualitative research reiterates the imperative of returning and discussing findings with individual participants, it is not difficult to acknowledge the input of those members who do wish to be identified.

Conversely, the right to expect complete confidentiality in reportage of findings should be respected by all researchers. Projects which seek to "fix and naturalise cultural difference" usually as a deficit (Brah, 1992, p.143) as a fundamental aim will have difficulty with this requirement as it may not be possible to exploit notions of cultural difference without singularly identifying those participants under examination. This orientalist approach and conventionality is used in sometimes Eurocentric ways. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander have no difficulty in naming their difference but they should not be subsumed by the totalising concepts of "Aboriginality’, as defined by outsiders, which enclose the meaning they are able to make about themselves within the research. Naming difference should be the sole prerogative of the individual and community who are able to name their clan, their kinship, their laws and customs: not the researchers.

Community Permission to Publish

'Issues of reportage should be discussed in advance' (Stake, 1994, p.244). This seems to be logical advice, yet it becomes such a sticking point with many researchers and the communities they have researched. Academics and, indeed, universities believe that the findings of research belong personally or institutionally to them and therefore, can be published or disseminated in any way they choose (CAPA, 1997). With pressures upon academics to ‘publish or perish’, it is little wonder that community blessing to publish findings is a low priority. With this paper, permission to discuss the protocols undertaken between the researcher and the Torres Strait community groups involved was submitted as an agenda item to a recent meeting (the entire membership of the relevant groups involved only meet 4 times a year). Feedback was obtained both in person and in writing.

According to QUT’s Manual of Policy and Procedures (MOPP), copyright can be the mutually agreed property of the community involved with the research; D - 8.5 Copyright

Within the terms of this policy, copyright of any works produced by a staff member or student shall remain with that person except where the work has been produced at the express direction of the University the work is subject to a contract which assigns copyright to another party a written agreement between the University and the student or staff member provides other arrangements as specified in such agreement".

There is scope here for mutually devised agreements and negotiations before research begins which will give ownership (copyright) and property rights over the research findings; a much more dynamic and usable path for social justice and self-determination for Indigenous people.


The tenuous nature of public funding for universities in Australia is no doubt a concern for many academics. From Indigenous perspectives, universities are yet to deliver educational outcomes from both within its own cloisters for Indigenous peoples and outside in the communities where many return. Developing research ethics is just one of the strategies that can be employed in reconciling the long history of intrusive study on Indigenous peoples. Looking at more enterprising and collaborative approaches to learning, studying and researching; where a recognition of Indigenous systems of knowledge is given voice and meaning, will mean a rediscovery of the this country that has endless potential. The myth of terra nullius implied that this country was uninhabited and terra nullius social policy supported by research enabled for the dispossession of knowledges of Indigenous peoples. It must be remembered that university curriculum, teaching methodologies and research endeavours have a history of development that contributed to this dispossession. Has the time come for change?


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