The Atlas of Living Australia’s IEK program

In partnership with Indigenous communities working on country, the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is exploring the role of information management platforms in bridging the boundaries between traditional and contemporary Indigenous knowledge and western science.

The ALA’s Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) program of work recognises the essential nature of a collaborative approach, and aims to provide tools to enable and empower greater Indigenous participation in biodiversity information management and assessment, and to support other aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people related to ecological or biodiversity knowledge.

Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website (and the links provided) may contain images, voices or names of deceased persons in photographs or printed material.

Contact:ALA Indigenous Ecological Knowledge program lead
Nat Raisbeck Brown
Experimental Spatial Scientist

Selected projects

Yugul Mangi Rangers: Two-way biodiversity project


Partners: Macquarie University
The Yugul Mangi Rangers in South-East Arnhem Land are working with Emilie Ens, an ecologist from Macquarie University, to document species and share traditional Aboriginal names and stories of plants and animals with other Australians.

The project enters Western and Indigenous scientific knowledge into the ALA and provides a two-way Indigenous engagement case study to encourage more Indigenous content, and importantly feedback loops to make the ALA more relevant and useful for Indigenous people.
Read the following articles for more information:
Citizen science project builds on award wining cross-cultural collaboration in eastern Arnhem Land (November 2018)

Community-led science in Arnhem Land

Sharing Indigenous women’s knowledge of biodiversity and culture across tribal boundaries in Arnhem Land

ALA Symposium 2016 presentation by Maritza Roberts and Basil Murrungun

Learning by doing: the Yugul Mangi Rangers and ecologists conduct two-way biodiversity research in remote Arnhem Land with ALA support

First ALA records of elusive Leichhardt’s Grasshopper in Arnhem Land

Returning to the remote Country of the Ngandi people

Bringing south-east Arnhem Land stories to south-east Australia mob

Olkola People: sharing knowledge and caring for country

The Olkola People of Cape York, CSIRO researchers, and the Tropical Indigenous Ethnobotany Centre (TIEC) are working together; using the ALA and its Profiles tool to explore ways to share and utilise knowledge to help care for country. The project builds on past and current efforts of the Olkola people to record and secure their cultural resources, and understand the complex social, cultural and legal (especially Indigenous cultural and intellectual property) issues and risks to ensure robust decisions can be made about sharing their knowledge on public platforms such as the ALA. The aim is for Olkola to share these learnings with other communities.

Indigenous Seasonal Calendars

ALA is working with Emma Woodward (CSIRO – seasonal calendar work) to co-develop with a number of Indigenous communities, the ALA Seasonal Calendar platform. An early prototype can be found here.

Banbai nation people at Wattleridge Indigenous Protected Area in northern New South Wales, are working with Michelle McKemey at the University of New England to develop fire and season calendars. The calendars represent annual seasonal changes as well as biocultural indicators that indicate the right, and wrong, time to burn. They are developed using results of ecological experiments, literature reviews, observations and cultural knowledge gathered through interviews. ALA is working with Michelle to see how the calendar can be incorporated into the ALA Seasonal Calendar platform. See the work of the Banbai here – Indigenous fire and seasons calendar.

The Tracks App

In 2017 the Central Land Council (CLC) obtained funding to develop a mobile app to support ranger groups in recording their tracking of bilbys and other small mammals, reptiles and pest animal species. The CLC partnered with the ALA to develop the app which was released in March 2018.  Initially The Tracks App will be used by ranger groups in the Northern Territory from the Tanami Desert to the South Australian border region, but it is anticipated that it will eventually be used by approximately 26 ranger groups throughout Australia’s sandy desert country.

Improving the relevance of the ALA website and software for Indigenous people

The ALA develops and improves its software and website through sprints (a concentrated software development work phase) and is undertaking work in response to feedback from Indigenous community users. Some of the work includes:

  • introduction of specific spatial layers into the ALA’s mapping and analysis tools – such as 2o16 Indigenous Protected Areas, Indigenous Land Use Agreement areas, Representative Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Body areas.
  • modifications to the Species Profiles app to upload multi-media files and to improve useability
  • addition of a tab and other modifications on ALA Species pages to enable Indigenous stories, Indigenous language names and multimedia to be displayed.
  • working with communities around how best to show language names within the ALA – see ALA IEK program – Language for an overview (e.g. Warlpiri (see Tracks App) and Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay). The following spreadsheet provides one format to add language names for species consistent with Darwin Core standards.
  • development of a prototype Indigenous seasonal calendar platform –

Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property

The ALA worked with Terri Janke & Company to develop some Indigenous Knowledge Protocols for the ALA. It includes the concept of Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) which incorporates all aspects of knowledge (science, plant and animal knowledge, stories, designs and symbols, ritual knowledge), cultural objects (arts, crafts, weapons, tools), performances (ceremonies, dance and song) and human remains and includes the secret and sacred.  As part of a broader review of the terms of use for the ALA – we are working out how best to implement the protocols, which includes guiding principles such as:

  • Respect
  • Involving Indigenous Stakeholders
  • Consultation
  • Informed Consent
  • Cultural Integrity
  • Confidentiality and Privacy
  • Attribution
  • Equitable Benefit Sharing
  • Recognition and Protection
  • Timely, Transparent and Respectful Process for Responding to Feedback.

ALA is working with Dr Jane Anderson from Local Contexts to scope out and potentially develop and implement Traditional Knowledge Labels (TK Labels) into various digital platforms within the ALA – e.g. seasonal calendars, Profiles – to support the ethical and equitable data sharing of ecological and environmental knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.  The intention is to also assess whether we need new TK Labels that will help identify and address Indigenous needs around the sharing of non-secret and non-confidential IEK.

Indigenous Languages

The Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages has teamed up with ALA and Digivol to crowdsource the transcription of some of the literature materials shared through the archive. The Living Archive is a digital archive of endangered literature in Indigenous languages of the Northern Territory. It currently contains over 3500 items in 50 Indigenous languages, all available under a Creative Commons license.  Join in!

IEK Education Resources

ALA is being used in the classroom to celebrate traditional knowledge and culture.  Former teacher and CSIRO’s Indigenous STEM Program Coordinator Geoff Guymer uses his experience in working in remote communities in the Northern Territory to give a classification activity a local Indigenous focus.