Ethical and effective research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

Considerations when planning, undertaking and communicating research, development & extension

It is essential that Indigenous people are full participants in research projects that concern them, share an understanding of the aims and methods of the research, and share the results of this work.

The FRDC acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities and groups have their own protocols, and that these must be observed, understood, respected and engaged with as an essential, ongoing part of the research process.

Indigenous people have certain rights associated with and based on the prior occupation of country and water and activities (e.g. fishing, gathering) associated with the use and management of these. These include the right to maintain and develop cultural practices to address spiritual, cultural, social and economic needs, and right to determine courses of action in relation to use and management of aquatic biological resources*.

In addition to customary activities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people also participate in commercial and recreational fishing. There should be implicit consideration of this sector in any RD&E projects, unless there is clearly no link.

While it is not feasible to develop a generalised set of protocols for FRDC-funded researchers, who work in a range of diverse contexts and communities, there are some common themes to consider before applying for FRDC funding, and throughout the carriage of projects that involve or have the potential to impact on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island peoples:

  1. Consultation, negotiation and mutual understanding.
  2. Respect, recognition and involvement.
  3. Benefits, outcomes and agreements.
  4. Cultural and intellectual property.

While researchers should be aware that many communities have their own set of protocols in place, the resources listed below are very useful. For example, the National Health and Medical Research Council has published guidelines that describe a number of different models that have been used successfully to build trust and recognition of cultural values and principles while advancing the objectives of the research enterprise.

What all these models have in common is the explicit recognition and commitment to respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural values and principles.

Resources and further reading

*References to rights were derived in part from the ‘Convention on Biological Diversityand the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’.