All research that is undertaken, irrespective of its nature, will have some sort of impact on Indigenous Australians. Indigenous engagement and participation is identified as a cross-cutting theme for all National Environment Science Programme (NESP) Hubs in the development of research priorities. Outcomes for Indigenous Australians form a key assessment component of the NESP Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy.

The National Environmental Science Programme Tropical Water Quality (TWQ) Hub aims to provide innovative research for practical solutions to maintain and improve tropical water quality from catchment to coast with a focus on the Great Barrier Reef, Torres Strait and other tropical waters.

These geographical areas are strongly connected to the region’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There are approximately 70 Traditional Owner clan groups whose land and sea country include the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and coastal ecosystems.

The Torres Strait has 20 Traditional Owner groups (19 Torres Strait Islander Corporations and one Aboriginal Native Title Corporation). Eight land and sea Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) and seven Traditional Use of Marine Resource Areas (TUMRA) are identified within the geographical region of the TWQ Hub.

Indigenous ecological knowledge is a fundamental pillar for the sustainable environmental management of the natural resources of north Queensland. The NESP TWQ Hub recognises the importance of Indigenous engagement in the understanding and management of north Queensland’s land and sea country.

In November 2012 – January 2013 an Indigenous Engagement Strategy (IES) was developed through the Australian Government’s National Environmental Research Program (NERP). The IES was the result of a Working Group including Indigenous representatives, Hub Administration staff and some project leaders. In 2015, the IES was revisited and after consultation, the Indigenous Engagement and Participation Strategy (IEPS) was developed for the NESP TWQ Hub.

The overall goal of the IEPS is to ensure a meaningful two-way engagement relationship that will recognise the interests, rights and Indigenous ecological knowledge (IEK) of Traditional Owners in land and sea country. The aim of this IEPS is to ensure research leaders consider and include opportunities for the engagement of Traditional Owners within projects.

At all stages, research with Indigenous peoples must be founded on a process of meaningful engagement, respect, trust and collaboration between the research project team and Indigenous peoples. This is a living document that will be reviewed periodically throughout the life of the NESP.

For detailed information on the development of the NERP Indigenous Engagement Strategy go to this webpage http://www.nerptropical.edu.au/publication/nerp-te-hub-indigenous-engagement-strategy-and-implementation-plan-january-2013-%E2%80%93

In order to ensure the process for meaningful engagement of Traditional Owners within the NESP TWQ Hub research projects are clearly defined, the hub administrators have created three category levels of engagement objectives which are proposed to match the type and methodology defined in each individual research project.

A Category One project, is a research project that is anticipated to be undertaken with direct collaboration with an Indigenous community, organisation, group or individual. As per the objectives of the IEPS, a Category One project will be expected to:

• Clearly identify how the research will be relevant, co-managed and of benefit to Indigenous communities and/or organisations.
• Provide opportunities for Indigenous engagement, employment or skills transfer, and the sharing of knowledge and the increase of cultural awareness amongst all parties.
• Ensure the research is conducted according to the highest ethical standards and respects Indigenous priorities and values.
• Develop a co-managed process for the generated knowledge, data and research results to be effectively shared, presented and communicated between Indigenous peoples, communities and organisations.

A Category Two project, is a research project that has a field component within the project, but does not have direct collaboration with an Indigenous community, organisation, group or individual. As per the objectives of the IEPS, a Category Two project will be expected to:

• Clearly identify how the research will be relevant and of benefit to Indigenous communities and/or organisations and if not why.
• Ensure the research is conducted according to the highest ethical standards and respects Indigenous priorities and values.
• Explore opportunities for Indigenous engagement, employment, skills transfer, sharing of knowledge and the increase of cultural awareness amongst all parties.
• Develop a process for the generated knowledge, data and research results to be effectively shared and communicated between Indigenous peoples, communities and organisations.

A Category Three project, is a research project that is laboratory or desktop based and does not have direct collaboration with an Indigenous community, organisation, group or individual. As per the objectives of the IEPS, a Category Three project will be expected to:

• Develop a process for the generated knowledge, data and research results to be effectively shared and communicated between Indigenous peoples, communities and organisations.

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.

It is important to understand 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 and terrestrial biological resources*.

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

While it is not feasible to develop a generalised set of protocols, there are some common themes to consider before, and throughout the carriage of research 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 Indigenous Australian communities and groups 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 Diversity’ (www.cbd.int/convention/ and the ‘United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’(https://www.un.org/development/desa/dspd/).
• Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Guidelines for Ethical Research in Indigenous Studies
• Desert Knowledge CRC Protocol for Aboriginal Knowledge and Intellectual Property
• National Health and Medical Research Council, Values and Ethics: Guidelines for Ethical Conduct in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research – 2003
• Guidelines for ethical and effective communication for researchers working in Torres Strait
• NT Government, Indigenous Marine Ranger Engagement Guidelines