The utility of knowledge

The United Nations University (UNU) Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) Centre of Traditional Knowledge is an exciting step for Charles Darwin University.  (Information about the launch can be found here). 

The UNI-IAS has already initiated a number of pilot projects in areas such as climate change, water, international policy making, biological resources and marine management. 

Valuing traditional knowledge for the purpose of education is important for several reasons:

  • it creates employment opportunities that match the skills and knowledge of indigenous peoples (in a socio-economic environment where there is a significant structural deficiency between labour supply and demand);
  • it re-enforces the positive value of indigenous identity and strengthens the inter-dependance between social networks and the sharing of knowledge;
  • it leads to possible break-throughs in key areas such as the application of biological knowledge to better health outcomes and other areas such as land resource management as a response to climate change.

In considering these positive efforts, a principal failure in indigenous affairs is the lack of value of indigenous knowledge and facilitation across a range of critical policy facets: health, justice, education, et cetera. 

Continued over the fold.

And not just the use of traditional knowledge, but how traditional knowledge can be leveraged within these policy facets.  This question appears to be absent in the formulation of public policy.  What’s more, it is the interface between this knowledge and traditional knowledge that is becoming more important but is just as absent.   

Take the example of child abuse and its prominence in the media. 

There has been a terrible unfolding of events involving the gang-rape of a 10 year old girl at Aurukun, reported here.  The formal responses (both policy and non-policy) have involved the following: police, criminal justice system, child welfare, media, consumers of media, the Queensland government, prosecution, consultants and reviewers, et cetera. 

Within Aurukun itself there is an abundance of indigenous knowledge that appears to be isolated from the formal responses identified above.  In any society this knowledge and exchange between social networks is still strong but in the area of indigenous policy it appears to be wholly exclusive to the informal sector.   

The questions that ought to be raised include to what extent is the local knowledge leveraged in the policy responses to this terrible issue and related issues?  How is it leveraged?  How is it valued?  

Is local knowledge valued in the policing resources? the criminal justice system? in rehabilitative and restorative justice systems? the child welfare systems? 

If it isn’t, or if it isn’t leveraged or valued adequately, then there is little hope of restoring and sustaining positive social norms.  That part of indigenous and local knowledge that has a positive value as a resource will be isolated if it isn’t leveraged adequately.  It will be confined to the powerlessness of an exclusive informal response.


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