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Strategic Priority 3



AIATSIS is at the forefront of research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are involved as researchers, partners and drivers of our research priorities and projects. AIATSIS leads by example in conducting research to the highest ethical standards and we have a genuine commitment to building pathways for knowledge exchange.

Our research is not only high quality but also, more importantly, contributes to the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians and has direct benefit to the communities we work with. Our work allows us to build upon and contribute to the knowledge contained within our collections.

KEY OUTCOMES 2018–2022

  • Speaking authoritatively through evidence-based research and culturally based representative networks
  • Articulating national priorities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research
  • Positioning AIATSIS as the arbiter of standards in relation to research ethics, Indigenous research and management of Indigenous collections
  • Fostering innovation in ethical, impactful research and collection practice

Key action: Share and promote the results and impact of AIATSIS research

Indigenous Research Exchange

AIATSIS was successful in securing $10 million in funding over three years to develop an Indigenous Research Exchange. The Indigenous Research Exchange will be an aggregator, facilitator and disseminator of Indigenous knowledge for the primary benefit of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It will also administer a research-based grants program, distributing $6.5 million over three years, designed to add to the collective knowledge that empowers Indigenous-led decision-making and planning.

AIATSIS will use its excellent data and information network with major Australian- based Indigenous research groups to:

  • integrate and streamline access to data that is currently unstructured and dispersed among different groups and institutions
  • facilitate the interpretation and translation of data into forms and products that are understandable and useful for sharing among Indigenous communities and, where appropriate, agencies and research groups.

Initial partnerships have been made with CSIRO/Data61, which is experienced in major government data initiatives and the architect of Australia’s National Map; and the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which is focused on improving the quality of Indigenous data in the Census.

This project will also support Indigenous-led decision-making, by making available research and other data that are currently held by AIATSIS and its government partners, academic institutions and many community organisations including land councils and Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs).

Native Title Research Unit

The Native Title Research Unit (NTRU) builds and retains corporate knowledge within the native title system, and coordinates and shares knowledge resources through undertaking research and monitoring; collecting, generating and disseminating information; and developing resources and publications. The NTRU email subscription list has over 1600 recipients and is steadily growing.

The website www.nativetitle.org.au was renewed and relaunched in August 2018. The new website provides clear and practical information for native title corporations and links them to relevant online resources.

Six native title research publications and two editions of the Native Title Newsletter were issued and 24 presentations were made to conferences, meetings and other forums. (see Appendix D).

A new Native Title Law Database on the AIATSIS website was launched in December 2018. As the most comprehensive collection of publicly accessible native title case and legislation summaries in Australia, it is a key resource for traditional owners, practitioners, academics and researchers. Summaries of cases and legislation from 2012 to 2019 are now available, with the remaining historical cases being added progressively during 2019. The database replaces the longstanding What’s New in Native Title publication, the last edition of which was published in July 2018.

Screenshot of the AIATSIS Native Title Law Database. Includes links to news stories on other AIATSIS web pages and a search field to access material held within the database. The Native Title Law Database By accessing this material you agree to the Disclaimers of liability. The Native Title Law Database is the most comprehensive collection of publicly accessible native title case and legislation summaries in Australia. Previously published as What's New in Native Title, the database is a key resource for traditional owners, practitioners and researchers. Each item includes a summary and link to the source judgement or piece of legislation. Use the Search al function to search by legal issue or subject, court, native title or language group names, year, jurisdiction, and any other keywords or phrases. Summaries of cases and legislation from 2013 to 2018 are now available on the database. Summaries of earlier legal developments will become available on a rolling basis throughout 2019. What's New in Native Title will be available here during the transition period. To receive updates from the Native Title Law Database please subscribe to Native Title Research news here.
​Screenshot - Native Title Law Database

AIATSIS provides native title and business training for Prescribed Bodies Corporate. Its Native Title Operations and Management Training, focusing on native title law and strategic planning, was delivered three times in 2018–19 with consortium partners RMIT, the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Business School and the National Native Title Council. Training was delivered in Melbourne (October 2018), Perth (November 2018) and Cairns (March 2019). Social Ventures Australia evaluated the training as a success.

Youth Engagement in Native Title project

During 2018–19 the Youth Engagement in Native Title project was established to address the opportunities and challenges for youth in native title and what younger people need to participate further in native title. The project involves a research collaboration with Macquarie Law School and the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), and a community partnership with Bigambul Native Title Aboriginal Corporation (QLD).

This project originated in the National Native Title Conference Youth Forum held alongside the National Native Title Conference in 2017, which revealed that many young people feel disconnected from their native title claims or organisations, communities and land, although they understand that the future use of native title to overturn disadvantage depends on intergenerational action.

A Youth in Governance Masterclass was delivered as part of this project in November 2018, in partnership with the Australian Indigenous Governance Institute and Reconciliation Australia. The masterclass was a one-day intensive training and development event that connects, educates and promotes eighteen to thirty-five year-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are, or hope to be, active in the business of governance locally, regionally and nationally. It featured a keynote address by Māori scholar Annie Te One, and presentations and activities on principles of governance, culture in governance and negotiation skills. Fifty young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people attended.

Emerging issues revealed through pilot research were published in June 2019 in the issues paper What do young fellas reckon? Engaging youth in native title (Williamson & Little). This highlights that younger generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ready and eager to step into the space created by their elders and that long-term investment in young people will, over time, support them to grow into the leaders of tomorrow and bring with them fresh ideas, knowledge and confidence. Unlocking this potential requires sponsorship from senior family members, mentoring and imbuing their young people with corporate and cultural knowledge, alongside appropriate training and education programs. This way, young people will possess the requisite knowledge and skills to leverage native title into a regime that fosters sustainable self-determination.

Two case study partnerships established this year will drive the next phase of the project, looking at engagement and succession models in native title corporations and political communities. The research will explore ways of harnessing the potential of young people and contribute to the success and sustainability of Indigenous-led organisations and processes.

Key action: Provide advice to government on Indigenous research priorities

AIATSIS regularly participates in meetings relating to collaboration across the research and innovation sector. Research Agencies Meetings (RAM), are regular forums to enhance, collaboration, policy monitoring and responses, research opportunities (including funding) and interagency liaison.

AIATSIS participated in a cross-academies meeting on 3 June 2019 to discuss:

  • Australia’s engagement with the International Science Council Committee on Data (CODATA) as a National Member, and alignment of national priorities with international trends and CODATA’s mission
  • clarification of the role of various national stakeholder groups (learned academies, government, industry and research) that currently shape and define Australia’s engagement with CODATA.

AIATSIS is an active partner in the National Data Network and the Indigenous Data Sovereignty Network, Maiam nayri Wingara, and has signed a new multi-institutional arrangement to support the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network. This has led to further engagement with individual learned academies and the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

AIATSIS’ new Indigenous Research Exchange (see page 70) will identify gaps in the evidence base for research and policy relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This will inform AIATSIS’ advice to governments, and the selection of research priorities and allocation of resources by communities, institutions and governments.

Key action: Enhance the reputation and impact of our flagship conferences

AIATSIS did not host a conference during 2018–19, following the decision to make the National Native Title Conference a biennial event. However, preparations for the 2019 National Indigenous Research Conference in Brisbane in July 2019 were completed, and planning began for the 2020 National Native Title Conference.

AIATSIS is co-convening the National Indigenous Research Conference with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) at QUT’s Gardens Point campus in Brisbane over three days from 1 to 3 July. The theme is ‘Research for the 21st century’, building on previous themes of impact and engagement to explore the interweaving strands of capacity for research and the transformative capability of Indigenous research for the 21st century.

On 11 June 2019, AIATSIS announced that the 2020 National Native Title Conference will be hosted by the Minjungbal Bundjalung people and their Elders on their traditional lands in Tweed Heads, NSW, from Monday 1 June to Wednesday 3 June 2020. The conference will be co-convened with NTSCORP, the Native Title Service Provider for Aboriginal Traditional Owners in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

Results and outcomes from these conferences will be presented in future reports.

Key action: Continue to implement best practice and tools for assessing research impact and engagement

Research Impact Framework

AIATSIS has been developing a framework for measuring impact that is appropriate for cultural research work with Indigenous Australian communities. Initial work was done in the context of the first Preserve, Strengthen and Renew in Community pilot project in Western Australia in 2017 (see page 93). With the insights from this project, the impact evaluation methodology is being refined and embedded into a new Preserve, Strengthen and Renew case study with South Coast New South Wales Aboriginal communities. The new case study will allow AIATSIS to measure its own institutional impact and further improve its processes. The project will make an important contribution to the growing interest across institutions and governments in evaluation of the impact of programs and policies affecting Indigenous Australians.

The Indigenous Research Exchange (see page 98) will also inform best practice for assessing research and impact, from the opportunity for meta-analysis across many research projects and by funding research projects that include and assess impact evaluation.

Key action: Provide advice and guidance on culturally sensitive and appropriate Indigenous collection management and access

AIATSIS provided advice to a range of institutions and agencies during the year, including:

  • sharing best practice for the storage and handling of restricted photographs, including for describing and preserving photographs containing possible secret/ sacred or other sensitive content
  • advising IP Australia, the Department of Communication and the Arts, and the National Indigenous Australians Agency on the ‘Fake Art Harms Culture’ campaign and on best practice management of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property
  • participating in the 2018 Knowledge Circle on improving access to records relating to members of the Stolen Generations and the 2019 meetings of the subsequently formed Historical Records Taskforce which made recommendations for action priorities.

AIATSIS is a member of Australasia Preserves, a digital preservation community of practice established and coordinated by the University of Melbourne Library Digital Scholarship team. In 2018–19, AIATSIS coordinated three collaborative events to share and learn best practice, build relationships and open up opportunities for collaboration:

  • ‘Digital Preservation for Everyone’ on World Digital Preservation Day in November 2018, presented by Jaye Weatherburn and Dr Ross Harvey from the University of Melbourne and Gerald Preiss from AIATSIS, hosted by AIATSIS and supported by the university and the Australian Academic Research Network
  • ‘Stats, Maps and Access Gaps’ in March 2019, presented by Darren Clinch from the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, focusing on geospatial visualisation of population-level health data and ways of dispelling deficit perceptions of Aboriginal people
  • ‘Digital Curation in the Indigenous Data Network’ in June 2019, presented by Professor Marcia Langton, Dr James Rose and Dr Len Smith, hosted by the National Library of Australia and supported by AIATSIS.

The events were attended by representatives of peer cultural institutions in Canberra and across Australia. New Zealand representatives participated online.

Jimmy Barker’s sound recordings

Jimmie Barker (1900–1972) was the first known Indigenous Australian to independently use recorded sound as a tool to preserve and document Aboriginal culture. As early as the 1920s he recorded King Clyde of the Barwon Blacks.

Between 1968 and 1972 Jimmie Barker was the primary cultural informant for researcher Janet Mathews’ Muruwari language work throughout northern New South Wales. He provided language and oral history material himself, and recorded over 113 hours of the audio content at Lightning Ridge and Brewarrina—initially on his own small tape recorder, which he purchased for $50, and eventually progressing to a better machine on loan from AIAS (AIATSIS’ precursor organisation). He then routinely posted the reels to Janet Mathews for her analysis and research work, under several AIAS grants. This material is sought after by researchers and the subject of frequent access requests.

AIATSIS is currently collaborating with Jimmie Barker’s descendants, to review his recordings and related documentation with the aim of appropriately attributing Barker for his parts of the collection, and enabling the collection to be opened up for increased access. This process also reflects AIATSIS’ recognition of Indigenous cultural and intellectual property, which provides for the right of Indigenous peoples to maintain, control and protect their traditional knowledge and cultural expressions, enabling communities to set access conditions around collections containing their cultural knowledge and expressions.

AIATSIS is reviewing the audio recorded by Jimmie Barker and recordings of interviews of Barker by Mathews, and producing detailed audition sheets. Family members are using these to review the material for sensitive content (personal, cultural or gender related) to determine the appropriate access categories and permissions. Analysis of thousands of pages of correspondence, grant reports, transcripts and associated documentation is also underway.

As well as providing wider research access to this material, the project is identifying excerpts for possible use in future exhibitions and podcasts.

Jimmie Barker at Brewarrina, NSW. Photographer unknown.An image of Jimmie Barker in front of some buildings and a car at Brewarrina, NSW.

Key action: Increase take-up, training, resources, external clearances, best practice advice and forums to support the Guidelines for Ethical Research and the publishing guidelines

AIATSIS developed the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS) twenty years ago. GERAIS has been adopted by many institutions nation-wide as a practical guide to comply with the best standards of ethical research regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies.

GERAIS has been regularly revised to reflect the changing context, but to mark the 20th anniversary AIATSIS has undertaken a comprehensive review to ensure it remains at the forefront of best practice. The review is being led by the AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee, AIATSIS Research Advisory Committee and AIATSIS Council.

A literature review was conducted of research in intellectual property law and Indigenous knowledge in relation to Indigenous studies; current practices for archiving, digitising and managing information and material that relates to Indigenous peoples; and research agreements and protocols between Indigenous people and researchers. AIATSIS also sought expert advice on intellectual property and data governance, and consulted a roundtable of Pro-Vice Chancellors Indigenous from Australian universities to consider issues of Indigenous and academic integrity, and whether Indigenous expectations for research ethics were being sufficiently represented.

The consultation draft of the proposed new Code for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research will be launched at the Australian National Indigenous Research Conference in July 2019 and will be made available for public consultation. The new code retains many of the principles of the original GERAIS in a new framework of principles and responsibilities, augmented by new provisions that meet emerging standards and expectations for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research.

AIATSIS provided the Indigenous Affairs Group in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (now the National Indigenous Australians Agency) with ethics review services; ad hoc advice on evaluations; and workshops on ethical evaluation, including modules on best practice ways to collaborate and co-design evaluations with Indigenous Australians. AIATSIS was also commissioned to prepare a guidance note outlining ways to encourage other ethics committees to use GERAIS as part of their ethics processes and ways to provide a consistent approach for multiple ethics committee approvals on evaluation involving Indigenous Australians.