Striving for greater Indigenous engagement

Publication date
Friday, 23 Sep 2016

"ANU is very open in terms of the research that you want to do," says Chris McKay. Before coming to ANU, Chris studied a Bachelor of Biotechnology at the University of Wollongong and spent a number of years in the public service. He is now studying his Master of Science Communication through the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.

"I got to a point after four years in the government where I decided I wanted to be a bit more targeted in my next phase. I didn’t want to go back into the lab, so when I found science communication at ANU it seemed like the perfect fit," Chris explained. "It’s a coursework Masters, but as part of that there is a research project. I did my research project on how researchers at ANU, particularly in the sciences and environmental areas, were using Indigenous knowledge in their work."

Chris found that scientists aren’t always engaging with Indigenous communities and it seems to depend on where they work. "Researchers working in the Northern Territory and remote regions were very heavily engaged with Indigenous communities," he said. "Whereas down in the South East reserachers were less likely to have engaged with Indigenous people, and when they did there were other groups who were competing for attention."

"It’s unfortunate because Indigenous groups are often the only ones who have knowledge about specific environments. For example, in the Coorong and Lower Lakes of South Australia, the Indigenous groups know how the environment operated before Europeans arrived. That sort of knowledge helps plan into the future because you know what is possible."

"However, there are ways to do things better. The researchers with the strongest relationships with Indigenous groups had spent more time developing trust. This means spending long periods of time with people, getting to know them and taking it slow."

It is this knowledge that Chris is now going to take into his new career. "I’ve got some work now with the CSIRO in communications. They were particularly interested because they wanted to have a greater Indigenous engagement in the work they do. So, that will be the future for a little while at least."