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Indigenous Science Can Save Us

Karlie Noon

The year is 2020. Climate change-denying politics are rampant in this coal-driven country, evidenced by the sheer amount of misinformation being spread. So-called Australia are the world leaders in mammal extinction. And this is before considering the impacts of the recent deaths of an estimated one billion native animals in the most horrific bush fires the world has ever seen.

Do not be fooled. The loss of all this flora and fauna is no mistake and there is nothing natural about this disaster.

The link between man-made climate change and the severity of this international catastrophe is undeniable.

Except by those who benefit from being allowed to endlessly desecrate the environment.

Through the propagation of misinformation about man-made climate change and the ability to have such strong influence on the systems intended to serve us, we have found ourselves in apocalyptic times.

But does it have to be this way?

I can’t help but find hope in the history of this land. It has seen destruction before. And survived. Over and over again.

First Nations people have watched this land change, over tens of thousands of years. And they have adapted with it, both genetically and culturally.

Thinking about what it was like to live on this land, before colonisation, the scene couldn’t be more different.

Indigenous ways of being 

Pre-colonisation, this land was meticulously managed. Each grain of dirt, every species and all plants were looked after. Each valued and recognised as an important piece of a larger system. Because despite there being over 250 diverse language groups, with countless differences and completely different traditions, we all had one thing in common.

We were and are custodians to our country.

This unifying philosophy of caring for country led to the most sustainable civilisation known to human-kind. Indigenous knowledge centers nature and places value on the threads that connect everything. Valuing and understanding these threads is Indigenous science.

Our sustainable practices have survived every other society’s rise and downfall, all the wars and disasters. All resource booms and their eventual decline.

In a time when society’s lack of sustainability is at a detriment to our continual survival, the world has so much it can learn from us, our continued traditions and our ancestors.

Modern science

In stark contrast, modern scientific knowledge systems are compartmentalised in every aspect. Knowledge is insulated from its context and is pedestalled such that only those who are ideal products of this modern culture can participate in the generation of new scientific knowledge.

The cultural preference of who can be a scientist in this country is evidenced by the severe underrepresentation of minorities and women engaging in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). As such, the perpetuation of isolated, exclusive scientific practices have led to great discoveries but also environmental breaking points.

Don’t get me wrong, modern science has done incredible things for all humans. Whether it be our medical achievements, giving us longer lives or simply the convenience of living we now enjoy thanks to tech.

However, after growing up being increasingly warned about the effects of climate change, being told how our consumerism and our desire to produce endlessly will have consequences and seeing them unfold in front of me in the form of endless drought, I have found myself searching for solutions outside of the systems that produced these problems in the first place.

My home town of Tamworth, NSW and all of Gamailaraay country has been in drought for almost as long as I can remember. Almost.

There is a time I can remember when this wasn’t the case. When Lake Keepit was full and we could go out there to swim on hot days. I remember a time when my child hood home had green grass. And how I didn’t really understand what drought meant but I knew it wasn’t good.

20 years later, the lake has been completely sucked dry by the coal mine up the road, my yard hasn’t seen life or growth in years and is incapable of growing anything and my home town is about to run out of water.

It begs the question. Who approved this? What type system allows industry to have the majority of the water while the people get a minuscule percent and the environment isn’t even considered a stakeholder?

A system that values production over everything. Even life.

Moving forward

An Indigenous approach to science has resulted in the continuation of the oldest civilization known to us, whereas a modern scientific approach has undoubtedly provided an abundance of technological advancement. Neither is intrinsically more advanced, both have incredible value to us as a society and both currently face significant risk.

Could decolonising science provide a way forward for all of humanity?

Could placing value on the connections between everything, centering those relations instead of production and progress, save us?

I think so.

It’s time to look back to go forward. This is how I hope to Change The Nation.

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