Module 14

Module 14 Home

Multi-cultural perspectives:
Indigenous People





Activity 1


Activity 2 Introducing the 3 R's (Recognition, Respect and Responsibility)

Activity 3

Cultures Of The Coast - Past And Present

Activity 4 Best Practice Guidelines


Activity 1


A. Icebreaker

Ask participants to draw a mind map onto butchers paper of what they would include in marine and coastal studies (ie. the scope). Allow participants to compare mind maps and facilitate a short discussion on the similarities and differences of the mind maps; whether the mind maps show a particular geographical viewpoint, personal viewpoint or cultural viewpoint; and whether a person from a different culture might view (and therefore teach) about the coast and marine environment in a different way.

Resource 1
contains words that represent aspects of the marine and coastal environment. In small groups, ask participants to write down a phrase that describes what each word means to them. Then ask the groups to attempt to match the possible Indigenous intepretations in Resource 2 to the same words. Facilitate a short discussion with the whole group about the similarities and differences between their interpretations and possible Indigenous interpretations and how this might affect their teaching of Indigenous perspectives.

Play music with an ocean theme and ask participants to move around the room to liven up (how they do this is up to them - they can swim, sail, float, drift, dance). Stop the music and ask participants to find the person closest to them whom they have not met before. Show OHT 1 and ask each pair to brainstorm the first `issue question'. Allow 3 minutes then repeat for each question.

To debrief the icebreaker, explain that the activities have included the key themes of the workshop. Ask participants to suggest what these might be. They should mention:

  • Indigenous peoples have different perspectives on coastal and marine environments
  • Indigenous perspectives are often left out of coastal and marine studies as most people teach from their own cultural perspectives (and most teachers are non-Indigenous people)
  • in addressing both human rights and environmental concerns, we need greater community understanding of the importance of sea country to Indigenous peoples
  • coastal and marine studies, as a vehicle for educating about living sustainably in coastal and marine environments, should include Indigenous perspectives (knowledge, experiences, rights, needs and aspirations) related to protection, use, management and conservation of sea country
  • barriers to including Indigenous perspectives into coastal and marine studies need to be overcome


B. Workshop objectives

As a whole group, show OHT 2 and explain the objectives of the workshop.

Relate the objectives to the key issues that have been discussed in the Introductory activities.


Activity 2

Introducing the 3 R's (Recognition, Respect and Responsibility)

This activity introduces the importance of the connection between Indigenous peoples and their sea country, both in traditional and contemporary times; and looks at the need to rebuild those cultural links for positive environmental outcomes. The role of coastal and marine education in this process is defined.

This activity is a series of presentations by the trainer supported by overheads (provided), group discussions supported by readings (provided), and video material (resource list). Guest speaker(s) will also be present if possible.

Participants will gain an understanding of the concept of `sea country', the centrality of sea country to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' identity, culture and social structure; the need for recognition and respect in learning and teaching about Indigenous perspectives; and responsibility for including Indigenous perspectives into coastal and marine studies, and the environmental benefits of doing so.

A. Recognition of Indigenous peoples

Display OHT 3 (Aboriginal Australia) showing the language groups of south eastern Australia. Explain that Aboriginal people are not a homogenous group but rather a collection of related but different groups. Explain that different groups can have different languages (more than 250 languages and over 700 dialect groups have been recorded in Australia); a different set of customary laws; different (although geographically-related) stories, music, art and dance; and different uses of the environment and its resources.

Explain that each tribe or clan is associated with a clan estate, referred to as `country'. Discuss the difficulty of putting names on a map, given that there usually are no distinct or stationary boundaries for `country'.

Ask participants to think of the different words that Aboriginal people call themselves - (Koorie -Victoria and New South Wales, Murri - Queensland, Yolngu - NT, Nungu - SA and so on). Ask if anyone knows an Aboriginal person traditional to their area and if not, discuss the reasons for this. (Point out that participants should not assume that traditional people do not exist in their area - see Activity 4). If participants know Aboriginal people who live in their area but are from another `country', discuss the effects of displacement of Aboriginal people from their traditional countries during the settlement of Australia.

Display OHT 4 to show an example of a clan estate which includes land, coast, sea and reef. Explain that land and sea are seen as one, and this is reflected in the way Indigenous people refer to the marine and coastal areas of their clan estates as `sea country'.

Display OHT 5 and break into small groups to discuss how these aspects of Indigenous culture are inextricably bound within the concept of sea country. Discussion should be based on Readings 1 and 2.

In debriefing the discussion, ask each group to report back to the whole group.

B. Respect

Show OHT 6 and explain that although archaeologists generally believe that Aboriginal people arrived in Australia about 40 000 years ago (and dates of 50 000 and 60 000 years ago are now also suggested), many Indigenous peoples believe differently. Their religious beliefs include stories about their origins, descending from various mythical ancestors in the Dreaming.

Explain that Aboriginal peoples have lived in Australia through several changes in sea levels. 40 000 years ago the sea was about 40m below present levels; 18 000 years ago during the last Ice Age, sea levels were more than 120m below present levels. The sea then rose rapidly, reaching its present day level about 6 000 years ago, with some parts of the coast inundated at a rate of 5km per year. Aboriginal peoples' attachment to their inundated country was preserved in new creation stories that explained the origins of islands and identified cultural sites now underwater; and the newly submerged lands become `sea country'.

In small groups, ask participants to refer to Resource 3 explain what they think is meant by the statement "Not only do the people need their land, the land needs its people". (This was coined during the campaign to return Starcke coastal land in North Queensland to the Traditional Owners, which you can read about in Horstman (1996) - see Further Reading). You should also show sections from the video Saltwater People (GBRMPA, 1997) if available, to further stimulate discussion.

Ask participants to discuss Reading 3 in small groups. Ask participants to reflect on how they feel about the long association between Indigenous peoples and their sea country; the abrupt severing of that connection 200 years ago, and the recent struggle to rebuild and strengthen those ties. Ask participants to draw on butchers paper their vision for `sea country' in 2020. Encourage participants to use words, symbols, pictures or other means to express their ideas and then to share their visions with others in the group. If you have time, ask one participant to `create' his vision using the group to role-play what he/she has seen. Ask each role-player what has happened to them since 1999 and how they feel in the year 2020.

C. Responsibility

Show OHT 7 and explain that aside from the need to recognise and respect Indigenous peoples as the earliest owners and managers of sea country, Indigenous people today have specific concerns related to use and management of the coastal and marine environment. Mention that almost one half of Australia's Indigenous peoples live in the coastal zone. Present the possible Indigenous viewpoint that non-Indigenous people have exploited marine resources over the past 200 years and that current management not only excludes Indigenous peoples from access to their traditional resources but also from decision-making about use of that resource.

Show OHT 8 and, based on these examples (and others the group can think of), discuss the significant economic importance of the coastal zone for Indigenous people today. Comment on the dual needs of Indigenous peoples - the strong and continuing traditional sense of belonging to, and responsibility for, their sea country as well as the contemporary need for economic independence.

Refer participants to Resource 4 and, in small groups, ask them to discuss whether they agree with the statement "Educators have a social and environmental responsibility to find ways of including Indigenous perspectives into coastal and marine studies." Discuss the benefits to their students; the broader non-Indigenous community; and Indigenous peoples.

Check that the whole group agrees that the above statement is a worthwhile goal. If they agree, undertake a force field analysis of the situation.

Brainstorm all the driving forces (things that help to achieve this goal) and all the restraining forces (things that hinder the achievement of this goal). Put ideas onto butchers paper.

Set up an imaginary line in the room from 1 (very weak) to 10 (very strong) and, as you call out each item from the list, ask participants to stand on the line at the place that represents their perception of the strength of that driving or restraining force. In this way the group can determine the most important forces working for and against their goal.

Discuss how each of the most important restraining forces can be reduced. Ask for ideas on how to enhance the driving forces.

4. Summing up

In debriefing this part of the workshop, summarise the 3 Rs, mentioning the key understandings that participants should now have - recognition of the importance of `sea country' to Indigenous peoples' identity, culture and social structure; respect for Indigenous peoples as the earliest owners and managers of the coast and marine environment; and the social and environmental responsibility that educators have to include Indigenous perspectives into coastal and marine studies.

Emphasise the long-term benefits of greater understanding of Indigenous perspectives on sea country - greater community support to involve Indigenous peoples in land and sea management; enhanced management of the coastal and marine environment and its resources; improved relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; and enhanced economic independence for Indigenous communities.

Point out that when non-Indigenous people attempt to include Indigenous perspectives into their curriculum, they need to be aware of the issues which are covered at the end of the workshop in the `best practices' activity. Add that the next section of the workshop is about specific Indigenous uses and management of sea country.


Activity 3

Cultures Of The Coast - Past And Present

Whereas the previous activity dealt with the conceptual nature of Indigenous peoples' connection to sea country, this activity looks at some of the details (as far as is possible given the cultural protocols surrounding Indigenous information) of how Indigenous peoples use and manage the coastal and marine environments and its resources, drawing from both the past and the present.

This activity involves presentations and workshops, where possible, by guest Indigenous speakers, with facilitated group discussions led by the trainer. Participants will then engage in several issues-based conflict resolution role play activities.

Participants gain an appreciation of the body of Indigenous knowledge about the coastal and marine environments, the sheer resourcefulness required to utilise this knowledge and the complex customary laws that serve as management tools to conserve resources. They will also gain insight to some of the contemporary coastal and marine management issues that affect Indigenous peoples' aspirations to lead environmentally- and culturally-sustainable lifestyles.

A. Guest presentation

Invite an Indigenous speaker to present a talk about any of the following topics that he or she feels qualified to speak about. Alternatively he or she may be able to suggest a related but more appropriate topic. (Refer to Activity 4 for advice on cultural protocols to follow when inviting Indigenous speakers to your workshop).

  • the ways in which his/her people utilise their sea country (seasons, resources harvested and what they are used for)
  • the various values of sea country for his/her people (social, spiritual, cultural)
  • concerns and issues related to traditional use of coastal and marine resources
  • his/her peoples' aspirations for sustainable use and management of marine and coastal resources
  • their means of passing on knowledge and skills needed for owning, using and caring for sea country (dance, story, song, language, school studies)
  • their experience of growing up in the coastal area

Follow up this presentation with a hands-on workshop if possible. Organise for the guest presenter or another Indigenous person to demonstrate some of the skills needed for utilising coastal and marine resources. This activity will depend upon your location - you may have a field trip or be classroom based. The session is entirely at the discretion of the Indigenous presenter but may include demonstrations of:

  • making and throwing fishing and hunting spears
  • collecting and using bark for making shelters, ground oven covers, etc.
  • collecting and weaving grasses, pandanus leaves into baskets, mats, dilly bags, etc.
  • collecting plant fibres to make fishing line or fish nets
  • carving shell or fish bone into fish hooks
  • tasting bush tucker from coastal plants
  • using coastal trees for fire sticks, sandpaper, digging sticks, etc.
  • use of stone tools such as axe heads quarried from coastal rocks

In some cases, it will not be possible for an Indigenous person to assist in your presentation at all or for that person to present the practical aspects of his/her culture. As an alternative, you could invite an Indigenous dance troupe or artist to your workshop to demonstrate an aspect of Indigenous culture that is related to the sea country.

To replace the above activity or to extend it, ask participants to discuss Readings 4 and 5 in small groups, to categorise or summarise the many uses of coastal and marine resources . Participants may wish to use techniques such as mind maps or pinboarding.


B. Group discussion

Display OHT 9 and, based on Reading 6, comment on the extent of traditional knowledge required by Aboriginal people to utilise marine and coastal resources, using the traditional implements described in earlier readings.

Hand out Resource 5 and display OHT 10. In small groups, ask participants to discuss whether we can learn about living sustainable lifestyles from Indigenous perspectives and what those lessons might be. Refer participants to Reading 6 for further ideas and ask each group to report back on their ideas.

Refer participants to Resource 6 and discuss as a whole group whether traditional information, where it exists, can be useful in contemporary society . If so, how? If not, why not? (Point out that Indigenous peoples' own the cultural copyright for their traditional information and that they generally wish to control and manage their information for their own purposes.)

In debriefing the discussion, highlight that cultural protocols surround all Indigenous information; that the information contained in the Resources and Readings is specific to particular groups of people; and is able to be used here because it is in the public domain. Mention that information protocols will be explained in the Activity 4.

Case studies

Introduce this activity by explaining that the previous activities have provided the background necessary for understanding Indigenous perspectives - the spiritual, physical, economic and social connection between people and their country. In order to provide this insight, the material has focused on traditional knowledge and management from the past; and we will now investigate the way in which the past informs the present and look at some contemporary management issues that affect Indigenous peoples' aspirations to lead environmentally- and culturally-sustainable lifestyles.

Research to find a relevant local marine or coastal management issue that is suitable as a case study and invite an appropriate Indigenous person to present their perspective on the issues. Use the material in Resource 7 to develop your case study to fully explore the issue. If this is not feasible, use the case study provided in Resource 8; alternatively you may choose to do both as comparative studies.

Divide the group into half and refer each group to either Resource 7 and/or Resource 8. Ask participants to use the pinboard technique to identify the key issues in their case study affecting Indigenous peoples' aspirations to achieve an environmentally- and culturally-sustainable lifestyle; and to think of some education solutions to the key issues.

Ask each member in the group to write down what they think are the key points - possibly strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats - writing one point per card

Ask participants to place their cards (anonymously) onto a pinboard using pins or blue tack. Facilitate the group to form clusters of similar ideas by consensus. Then ask them to think of cluster headings that summarise the broad issue for each group of cards.

Ask participants to work in groups of 3-4 and assign each group one or more clusters of issues. Ask each group to rank each of the issues within their group and then to brainstorm possible education solutions for the most important issues.

Allow time for each group to report back to the whole group, and compile and discuss the results.

Using the issues raised, undertake a role play activity based on the case studies. Designate relevant roles to participants in small groups (eg. an Elder, non-Indigenous ranger, conservationist, government representative, local resident, recreational fisherman, tourist operator/developer, traditional hunter, commercial fisherman and meeting facilitator) and set up a meeting to arrive at agreement about the scenario outlined in the Resource. Ask participants to use conflict resolution skills to negotiate an outcome. Refer participants to the checklist for successful meetings on OHT 11. Highlight to participants the principles for successful negotiations:

  • separate the people from the problem - treat people as human beings and the problems on their merit (although for Indigenous people this technique may not be appropriate)
  • focus on interests not positions - focus on each party's needs, desires and concerns rather than on their public positions
  • invent options for mutual gain - be creative in inventing solutions
  • insist on using objective criteria - use objective criteria of independent standards (again, for Indigenous peoples, objectivity may not be possible where issues often directly affect peoples' wellbeing and survival)

Debrief this activity by commenting that although every Indigenous group has a different culture, a different history of experience and faces different coastal conservation issues today, the commonalties are greater than the differences. There will be many common themes in each issue or case study that could be included into Coastal and Marine Studies.


Activity 4

Best Practice Guidelines

Before teachers begin teaching about Indigenous perspectives, they need to be aware of the cultural protocols and sensitivities that need to be observed when working with Indigenous people and their information. This section is therefore very important to the success or otherwise of any curriculum that includes Indigenous material.

This activity involves group discussion and debate on best practices for incorporating Indigenous perspectives in Coastal and Marine Studies and looks at roles in teaching Indigenous perspectives. A pinboarding exercise will be used to generate ideas for where Indigenous perspectives can best fit into the existing curriculum. The activity, and the workshop, concludes with another mind map exercise that allows participants to evaluate their progress in awareness of Indigenous perspectives.


A. Debate

Display OHT 12 and explain the principles upon which best practice guidelines are based. Refer participants to Reading 6 for more detail.

Divide the group into groups of 6 and ask participants to discuss or debate the topic, "Should non-Indigenous teachers attempt to teach Indigenous perspectives in Coastal and Marine Studies?"


B. Pinboard exercise

  • Ask participants to think about where in their existing curriculum they think that Indigenous perspectives should or could be included. Facilitate the group to undertake a pinboard exercise the generate their ideas into educational objectives:
  • Ask each participant to write down the key Indigenous ideas, concepts or topics that could be taught - one point per card.
  • Ask participants to place their cards (anonymously) onto a pinboard using pins or blue tack. Help the group to amalgamate similar ideas and then to move cards into categories by consensus. When participants are happy with their categories, ask them to think of cluster headings that summarise the broad concept for each group of cards.
  • Ask participants to break into small groups, assign each group one or more categories and ask them to generate educational objectives for each of their categories and to nominate if possible where best each idea fits in the curriculum.
  • Allow time for each group to report back to the whole group.

C. Conclusion

To conclude the workshop, ask participants to individually draw another mind map of `the coast' or `the sea' with a view to how they will now teach coastal and marine studies. Ask participants to display this mind map with their earlier mind map and walk around the room to view other peoples' maps. Discuss any changes that have appeared.

In concluding the workshop, show OHT 2 again and evaluate how well participants feel that the objectives were achieved. Summarise the major points covered in the workshop:

  • understanding the `sea country' concept and Indigenous peoples' perspectives on the coast and marine environment;
  • appreciating that Indigenous peoples have extensive traditional knowledge and continuing links with sea country; and aspire to sustainable lifestyles, both environmentally and culturally; aspirations to which there are many barriers;
  • awareness that protocols must be observed when incorporating Indigenous perspectives into your marine and coastal curriculum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.