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Indigenous knowledge

March 2, 2017

Topic: Research

Indigenous knowledge: where is ethical responsibility in land use planning?

The Planning Institute of Australia (PIA) certifies professional land use planning courses. It calls on courses to teach Indigenous knowledge and protocol. But while its policies expect courses to address culture, they do little else towards achieving this, write Gareth Powell, Shay McMahon, and David Jones. 

The authors review the PIA’s approach to Indigenous consultation in ‘Aboriginal Voices and Inclusivity in Australian Land Use Country Planning’, in KnE Engineering. They find that the PIA’s conservative line of action fails planners and Indigenous Australians and graduates are not equipped to work with traditional owners, Highlighting the Australian High Court’s decision in the landmark Mabo case, Powell, McMahon, and Jones reflect on how planning education responds to Indigenous culture. Undergraduate and postgraduate planning courses seem to lack material on Indigenous knowledge systems, and, despite the PIA insisting on Indigenous content in the course, Indigenous experts are not consulted on this content. Cross-cultural awareness and capacity building are also missing. Under such conditions, courses are not just tokenistic, they also risk being offensive. In response to criticism, the PIA had re-drafted its policies. However, the authors point out that rhetoric has not translated into action.     

The article describes the mutual relationship between people and Country in Indigenous belief systems where land management and planning become a ‘form of storytelling about the past, current, and future’. It calls for planners to understand Indigenous history, laws, and culture as a professional, ethical responsibility towards not repeating past injustices.     

Gareth Powell is director in the Wadawurrung (Wathaurung Aboriginal Corporation), Ballarat, Australia. Shay McMahon is faculty member in the Institute of Koorie Education, Deakin Univeristy. David Jones is Professor in Urban Planning/Landscape Architecture in the School of Architecture & Built Environment, Deakin University.

Photo: Ken Shelton/Pixabay/cc