Kin and knowledge
: the meaning and acquisition of Indigenous ecological knowledge in the lives of young Aboriginal people in Central Australia

  • Josephine Claudia Douglas

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This is an ethnographic study about young Aboriginal people in Central Australia. The voices and opinions of more than 150 Aboriginal youth were analysed. My findings show that Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) is an active part of their lives. This knowledge and practice contributes to the identity and pride of youth from Central Australia. 

    Young Aboriginal people are commonly portrayed in the media as problems. Negative stereotypes and deficit narratives imply they occupy a failed space within and between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal worlds. Youth are said to be lacking in culture and disinterested in cultural practices. My findings contradict such stereotypes and deficiencies.

    The lived experiences of Aboriginal people are often invisible to mainstream Australian society. Rarely do we hear from young Aboriginal people themselves. Their role as players in a system of knowledge is simultaneously ignored and assumed. IEK is characterised as the domain of the older generation but not younger generations. This thesis goes beyond academic attention to IEK in environmental programs, developmental theories or the nexus between Indigenous and Western or scientific knowledge.

    The study explores the social lives of young Aboriginal adults. Mixed methods were used to examine the learning practices, learning contexts and cultural acquisition processes that underpin IEK. Qualitative results from interviews, surveys and observations are presented. I look at how IEK is made to happen, how knowledge and practice is realised in contemporary contexts.

    The study shows that people’s everyday lived experience integrates IEK. Cultural knowledge is vulnerable to the stresses and forces of modern life; yet it persists. Factors that enable IEK to persevere are examined. I have found that hunting, bush food and medicine harvesting, and natural resource use contribute to IEK. Practices and beliefs are enriched through ceremonial life, health and healing, and in observances in bereavement and funerals. Amongst younger people there is an ongoing belief in the sentience of country.

    This research revealed that IEK is a vital part of youth values and beliefs. Beliefs inform youth practice. IEK is expressed through relationship to families and people’s connections to each other. Young people demonstrate their care for older and younger generations through the collection, preparation and use of natural resources. ‘Relatedness’ continues to be the currency of knowledge transmission. Feelings of love, duty and care motivate young people to listen, learn and do things for their older and younger loved ones. Deep and powerful feelings for family members call young people to action.

    Young people are integral to the future of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge and practice in Central Australia.
    Date of AwardAug 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorTess Lea (Supervisor)

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