Development and Local Knowledge: New Approaches to Issues in Natural Resources Management, Conservation, and Agriculture

By Alan Bicker; Paul Sillitoe et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

Close encounters of the Third World kind

Indigenous knowledge and relations to land

Veronica Strang

This chapter considers the relationship between systems of knowledge and attachment to land. Examining ethnographic data from an Aboriginal community in North Queensland and Euro-Australian pastoralists on the surrounding cattle stations, it argues that the use of land as the primary medium for the location of cultural knowledge engenders ‘place-based’ identity and affective environmental relations which are not experienced to the same degree by more transient cultural groups. Implicit in this argument is an assumption that indigenous knowledges and identity have specific characteristics and are located in ‘place’ in ways that are meaningfully different to the more fluid knowledge and identity constructions of other societies.

Environmentalists have often represented indigenous groups as ideal models, not only of ‘harmony with nature’ but also of social and emotional coherence, and continuity. Anthropology has tended to reject these romantic images. However, the data presented here suggest that there are real differences in indigenous knowledge systems that provide a powerful rationale for their use as ideal models of sustainable resource management and environmental values which integrate human and ecological needs.

To examine the characteristics that may be said to define indigenous knowledge, first we must consider how these enable cultural groups to consider how these enable cultural groups to construct localised identities and communities, often in opposition or resistance to a globalising social and economic environment. Focusing on an Aboriginal community in northern Australia and the Euro-Australian pastoralists in the same area, it argues that the use of land as the primary medium for the location of cultural knowledge engenders a form of integrated knowledge, 1 place-based identity and affective relations with a specific landscape which are not experienced to the same degree by more transient cultural groups. Implicit in this argument is the assumption that indigenous knowledges and identities are inherently local - intimately bound up with place in a way that is significantly different to the knowledge and identity constructions of other societies. In effect, it is not tenable to consider an indigenous system of knowledge unmediated by a specific landscape.

Defining this significant difference is an intensely political issue both in

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