Generations of traditional scientific knowledge to guide new research protocols in the Wet Tropics

These new protocols will also ensure there are opportunities for traditional science and knowledge to be included in research projects.

A 12-month trial was launched to introduce a process that requires a research applicant to fill out an Application for Research Endorsement (ARE) in consultation with a Rainforest Aboriginal peoples representatives.

The ARE is an innovative protocol developed by the Department of Environment and Science (DES) in partnership with the Wet Tropics Management Authority.
Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Leeanne Enoch said these protocols will encourage scientists to engage with the relevant Rainforest Aboriginal peoples early in a project’s planning and design to achieve a mutually beneficial research partnership.

“This trial represents a contemporary approach to building stronger collaborative relationships between research bodies such as Griffith University and the University of Queensland and the Rainforest Aboriginal peoples in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area,” Minister Enoch said.

“Researchers will be required by traditional custodian groups to apply and abide with the cultural protocols and ethical best practice standards developed by Rainforest Aboriginal peoples groups."

“This is a significant milestone for the region’s Rainforest Aboriginal peoples finally being recognised as traditional custodians across the Wet Tropics.”

A research protocol has been an aspiration of Rainforest Aboriginal people since 2005 with the signing of the Wet Tropics of Queensland World Heritage Area Regional Agreement (the Regional Agreement).

The Wet Tropics Management Authority and DES have been working closely since then to establish the groundwork for the new protocol.

While many researchers already engage with Rainforest Aboriginal peoples as part of their research planning and design, the ARE trial will provide a formal process for engaging with Rainforest Aboriginal peoples for all research projects relating to the region, including its internationally recognised flora and fauna.

Traditional custodian Joann Schmider, from the Rainforest Aboriginal peoples strategic think tank, said the ARE process is an important development. “While many researchers are required through their institutions to meet Indigenous ethics guidelines including mutual benefit obligations, the ARE heralds a similar ethics approach in scientific and educational research relating to land, plants and animals.
“Even more so, it enables real engagement with the Aboriginal apical families who hold the responsibility in looking after their custodial Country. On behalf of the 300 apical families, the Rainforest Aboriginal peoples’ strategic think tank congratulates DES and the Authority, and we look forward to the trial’s outcomes.”

During the trial period, researchers will need to apply for endorsement of their project from the relevant Rainforest Aboriginal apical families through the representative bodies, and a scientific research permit. This will assist DES to take into account potential impacts on cultural values.

The ARE trial recognises the role of DES in ensuring that its decisions comply with the recently enacted Human Rights Act 2019, which recognises the distinct cultural rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to enjoy, maintain, control, protect and develop their identity and cultural heritage.

The ARE trial will apply to a range of research applications granted under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 such as Permit to Take, Use, Keep or Interfere (PTUKI) and scientific purposes permits.

However, it will not apply to Commercial Activity Permits for tourism operators or Biodiscovery permits granted under the Biodiscovery Act 2004. An evaluation of the ARE trial involving researchers and Rainforest Aboriginal peoples will support DES to establish a long-term research endorsement process in 2021.

For more information on the trial and a copy of the ARE form look here.

Generations of traditional scientific knowledge to guide new research protocols in the Wet Tropics

Published: 07th Oct 2020

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