Embracing Indigenous Knowledges in STEM the focus of NAIDOC Week webinar

July 21, 2022


The video’s opening image was adapted from the 2022 National NAIDOC logo (CC BY-NC-N4 4.0), with the addition of text and images relevant to the event.


The Australian Academy of Science celebrated NAIDOC Week recently by hosting a virtual webinar on 7 July. In a Q&A format, four Indigenous STEM professionals shared their journeys in STEM and discussed their experience embracing Indigenous Knowledges in STEM and the ways in which they foster a more inclusive and diverse STEM sector.

The webinar was hosted by Indigenous health champion and Academy Fellow, Professor Tom Calma, Aboriginal Elder from the Kungarakan tribal group, and Chancellor of the University of Canberra (UC). He was joined by Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge, Kamilaroi man, also from the University of Canberra, Susan Beetson, Ngemba/Wayilwan and Wiradjuri woman, from the University of Queensland, and Vanessa Sewell, Worimi woman, from the University of New England.

Professor Calma led the panellists through a lively and informative discussion. He spoke about the UNSECO Indigenous Declaration, which focuses on the independence and self-determination of Indigenous people across the globe and their right to express and share their knowledge and history.

“The government should work with us to develop measures that ensure these rights are recognised and protected,” Professor Calma said.

Associate Professor Moggridge is investigating how traditional knowledges can influence and support Australia’s water management systems.

He said over the last 20 years there is evidence of Indigenous people’s knowledge being increasingly valued in resource management strategy and STEM research more broadly.

“But as the system continues to use more Indigenous Knowledge there needs to be a guarantee that Indigenous Knowledge is protected and used with permission from the community."

“I started a PhD because I got tired of other people telling our stories, tired of being the researched. I thought it was time to become the researcher, flip that whole paradigm.

“The aim was to do it by Kamilaroi for Kamilaroi, on Kamilaroi country,” he said.

I started a PhD because I got tired of other people telling our stories, tired of being the researched. I thought it was time to become the researcher, flip that whole paradigm.

Vanessa Sewell is working to create more sustainable and effective vaccines to prevent internal parasites in sheep. 

“I’m a First Nations woman excelling in a white western science and I’m bringing my First Nations passion for animals into it as well,” Ms Sewell said.

She said her interest in STEM comes from her family and those who have supported her along the way. Ms Sewell also spoke about the significance of finding people who backed and encouraged her along her scientific career.  

Professor Calma and Ms Sewell spoke about the need for non-Indigenous scientists to help guide and encourage Indigenous scientists.

Susan Beetson from the University of Queensland spoke about her work establishing research collaborations and knowledge centres in urban and remote Indigenous communities.

The knowledge centres bring together cultural knowledge and science and technology to connect with those in the community. They use both knowledge from Elders and modern technology like drones and artificial intelligence.

Ms Beetson wants to create effective solutions to appropriately represent Aboriginal data that is interpreted, stored and published by non-Aboriginal people.

“The need for cultural hubs is incredibly important; they connect Indigenous people to their country and culture but also closer to their technology and sciences,” she said.

“Cultural hubs provide a place where Indigenous people can access and interpret their own information and build partnerships; by doing this it ensures that Indigenous cultural intellectual property is maintained by the communities.

“Cultural knowledges, for me, is about knowledge sovereignty and it’s absolutely critical that we as Aboriginal people start to recognise our individual kinship and our community knowledge,” she said.

The trio is part of a newly established national Indigenous STEM professional network (NISTEMPN) to facilitate the success of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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