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A new way to recognise Indigenous knowledge at The Conversation

Written by Misha Ketchell, Editor & Executive Director, The Conversation


The Conversation was established in 2011 to give experts a greater voice in public debate. In the decade since we’ve been able to build a bridge between academics and millions of people interested in what they have to offer.

We get around 7 million readers every month on our website, with millions more joining in via other media outlets that republish our work. This year the coronavirus pandemic doubled our audience as people looked to experts in epidemiology, virology and economics to help them make sense of a complex situation.

Despite this great success, we still sometimes discover gaps in our approach — including how we define expertise. The Conversation’s point of difference as a media outlet has always been that our authors are all academics or researchers from universities and research institutions, writing in their area of expertise. For verification of expertise we lent heavily on our university partners and leading research bodies like CSIRO.

But this doesn’t always work. A few weeks ago we were preparing an article on changes to biodiscovery laws in Queensland. The laws were being updated to better reflect Indigenous knowledge, and one of the co-authors of the piece was contributing Indigenous knowledge. But, as is sometimes the case, he did not have a formal academic position with a university — so under our old author guidelines, we would have been unable to properly credit him.

To solve this problem, we have created a new institutional category in our publishing system for authors who are contributing Indigenous knowledge. We hope this approach will support our efforts to boost the participation of Indigenous authors in public discourse, and remove an unnecessary barrier so everyone can benefit from their insights and expertise.

This work is part of a broader range of initiatives to ensure we reflect the central importance of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives. Our Editorial Board has recently endorsed this policy on articles relating to Indigenous affairs:

Where a proposed article, or article pitch, is addressing Indigenous affairs, or a matter that is primarily of concern to First Nations peoples, the responsible editor must endeavour to find an Indigenous or First Nations author and/or co-author. If this is not possible an Indigenous reviewer will be sought. In the absence of credited input from an Indigenous or First Nations academic such an article will only be published if a genuine attempt has been made to satisfy this policy and approval is granted by the chief of staff or senior editor on duty.

We have also written an acknowledgement of country, to be posted on our website, so we can better pay our respects to the First Peoples in Australia and New Zealand.

We hope to have more to announce soon as we pursue our goal of ensuring our editorial team is set up to make the most of the deep expertise of Indigenous Australians and Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand. In the meantime, here’s our proposed new acknowledgement of country:

We pay respects to Traditional Owners of lands where our contributors and editors work. We particularly acknowledge the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation on whose lands our Melbourne HQ is located. We also acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia and Māori as tangata whenua in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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