Indigenous voices in climate change adaptation: Addressing the challenges of diverse knowledge systems in the Barmah-Millewa

Adaptation Research Grants Program
Dave Griggs
Monash University
Year Started: 


- Indigenous knowledge for climate change adaptation - workshop report
- Nhawul Bultjubul Ma - To See with Both Eyes

Abstract from final report:

This project investigated how the deep knowledge of the Yorta Yorta people can be used to strengthen their participation and influence in the complex national and regional processes that determine how their traditional lands, which are in the highly-contested Murray-Darling Basin, are managed, leading to improved adaptation decisions both for the Yorta Yorta and the wider community.

Through discussions with the Yorta Yorta over several years, the approach developed for the project was the creation of a Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping framework containing both Yorta Yorta knowledge and more conventional knowledge. GIS allows for mapping and layering of different types of data, allowing the Yorta Yorta to access and present their knowledge in ways that relate to Western decision-making processes. 

To do this, the project had four components:

1. Development and testing of protocols and methodology for the collection and protection of Yorta Yorta knowledge. This was carried out through an intergenerational process, whereby Yorta Yorta youth were trained in cultural data collection techniques, and they interviewed Elders to capture the knowledge.

2. Building of a GIS framework to integrate both the Yorta Yorta knowledge and more conventional data about the climate, hydrology and biodiversity of the Yorta Yorta area. For the first time this pulled together all of the conventional information normally used as a basis for natural resource management decisions. In addition, because the GIS database has been created and is owned by the Yorta Yorta means that they have something of value to bring to the discussions, so that they are able to participate in those discussions on equal terms.

3. Exploration of the views of the broader community in the region regarding management of the region and adaptation alternatives through a stakeholder consultation process. The consultation identified the potential for greater use of science as a neutral arbiter in issues such as management of the Murray-Darling Basin, but even more important is the need for genuine, deep, open-minded dialogue with the community at all stages of decision-making, particularly at an early stage before proposals are put forward and views become entrenched.

4. Identification of broader lessons for improving adaptation of First Nations communities in Australia from the experience of the Yorta Yorta and other communities around the country, through a national workshop. The key conclusion of the workshop was the urgent need to empower First Nation communities to make their own assessments and decisions on the best ways for them to respond to climate change.

The project raised community awareness and knowledge and energised the Yorta Yorta youth to take an interest in their history and culture, and in the climate challenges facing their community. Overall the project has been a successful pilot demonstration of the utility of a GIS database to integrate Indigenous and conventional knowledge for better natural resource management outcomes and the project has increased the knowledge and capacity of the Yorta Yorta to engage in effective natural resource management and decision-making.

View the final report