BLOG: From Global North to South and back - A researcher visit to the Indigenous Community in South Australia
Authors: Amna Qureshi, Inker-Anni Linkola-Aikio and Dino Girardi
In this blog post, we will be discussing the recent visit of three researchers from the University of Lapland, representing faculties - law, education, and art and design. We, as researchers collaborating on the TRUST project, which stands for "PromoTing Sustainable PRactices for Digitalizing IndigenoUS CulTural Heritage - Global North and South Juxtaposed," visited an Arts Centre in Ceduna, South Australia, where a workshop was held with the local Indigenous artist community. It is important to note that Ceduna is a remote regional town situated on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia. The Ceduna Aboriginal Corporation (CAC) successfully manages various programs in Ceduna, including Arts Ceduna.
We were invited by the CAC to interact with the Indigenous community at the Arts Centre, and the management board endorsed the initiative. Our team benefited from a shared connection who had previously collaborated with the University of Lapland and now worked as a coordinator for the Arts Centre. This allowed us to effectively work with the community. Having this connection helped us build a bridge to the local artist community and pave the way for the project scope to move forward. Our research group had a non-indigenous background. None of us knew the local Indigenous languages, but the community was multilingual yet fluent in English. Naturally, our research group used English in communication among ourselves as well as with the local artists.
Before the travel, we were informed of the warm weather conditions and the local community of artists that we were scheduled to meet, along with practical guidelines to keep in mind during our stay. Yet, despite how prepared we thought we were, it was impossible to be prepared for the physical conditions that the long flights, total change of climate and jet lag caused. Prior to the arrival, we reached out to the Arts Center via email and Microsoft Teams to ensure their requirements and hopes.
After the arrival, and before the workshop, the Indigenous artists and arts workers graciously invited us to a meet-and-greet activity on their land. The activity involved fishing and crabbing together at Alexander's Beach in Ceduna, creating an opportunity for everyone to bond and enjoy the natural surroundings. Perhaps that was the time when we all came to the realization that we were no longer so tired of travelling and had finally connected with the local community in a genuine way.
During our visit to the Arts Centre, the art coordinators and the artist community were excited to share their indigenous arts and crafts collection with us. The Arts Centre itself was very well managed with lots of work opportunities for local artists. The artists who won prizes and mastered their craft also eagerly explained the narratives that laid the foundations for their artworks. We were told that these stories are passed from generation to generation as a part of the traditional knowledge. While the use of these stories is maintained by the inner community, determining who is permitted to use them.
According to the principles of indigenous research, even an external researcher should know the local culture and language, and work according to the objectives and wishes of the community (WINHEC, 2010).Considerations should be given to the relational accountability as well as the benefits of the research to the local community especially when non-indigenous researchers are doing research that involves indigenous people (Francett-Hermes & Pennanen, 2019).Visiting an Indigenous art place is a truly special and unique experience. It not only lets you discover the traditional arts and crafts of the local community but also provides a chance to gain a deeper understanding of their culture and history. By connecting the dots between seemingly unrelated events and symbols, we were able to extract the hidden stories and create a powerful narrative. We were not familiar with this sort of indigenous cultural heritage in person and had done relatively little research on Aboriginal art before we arrived at the Arts Centre, Ceduna.
Through a two-way learning process, we gained
knowledge about their indigenous artistic ways and community regulations, and
in return, we helped them gain a better understanding of their intellectual
property rights, specifically their Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual
Property rights (ICIP). As we conversed during the workshop, we delved into the
sensitivities and ethical considerations surrounding capturing and sharing
up-close photographs of their artworks on the Internet. It is common for people
to snap a photo and share it, while falsely claiming it as their own creation. It
has become a common practice for corporations to mass-produce and sell artwork
created by local artists without giving them due credit or compensation. This
trend not only robs the artists of their rightful earnings but also takes away
from the unique styles and techniques that make their work special. The
background of such fears and concerns was addressed during such conversations
with the artists.
Additionally, this was further elaborated in a community information seminar that was conducted towards the end of our research visit where we together with the local experts discussed the significance of documenting the artistic process, open data, fake art and archiving. The seminar also shed light on the law that can protect the indigenous artistic identity. The seminar was a success despite facing unexpected technical challenges, uninvited crawlies, and extremely hot weather with temperatures reaching up to 46 degrees Celsius. There were a large number of attendees who participated actively, and the community responded positively. It is worth mentioning that the food served at the seminar organized by the Arts Ceduna host was exceptionally delicious. It featured local indigenous ingredients like plants and kangaroo meat. To summarize, the research experience was quite unique, but the harsh weather conditions took a toll on the physical conditions, making it mentally challenging to conduct field research. A crucial lesson to learn is that even with ample preparation, unforeseen obstacles are inevitable.
In conclusion, through the TRUST project, we aimed to reach out to the indigenous community and assist them in comprehending how to promote their art through digital means while complying with legal regulations. By engaging with individuals on a personal level through the workshop and providing awareness during the seminar, they were able to comprehend their rights regarding their indigenous artwork. Our learning experience was collaborative and beneficial for both parties involved, as we both gained valuable knowledge. In the future, we strive to maintain an ongoing partnership and open communication with them in order to safeguard their ICIP rights.
The TRUST project received strategic funding from the University of Lapland. The ethics committee of the University of Lapland approved the research, which followed the ethical outlines of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity (TENK). Additionally, we are grateful to SA Australia for funding the workshop at Arts Ceduna.
Francett-Hermes, M., & Pennanen, H. (2019) Relational ethics in Indigenous research – A reflexive navigation of whiteness and ally positionality. Dutkansearvvi dieđalaš áigečála 3(2): 125-148.
(2010) World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium. Research
Standards. WINHEC Research and Journal Working Group. (First
Edition adopted August 26, 2010).