From the other side of the knowledge frontier: Indigenous knowledge, social-ecological relationships and new perspectives

Cameron Muir*, Deborah Rose, Phillip Sullivan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


A river is like a mirror: it reflects the care given by people whose lives depend upon it. A scald on red ground or the slow death of a river reveals more than troubled ecological relationships they are signs of broken social relationships. How people take care of social relationships and how they take care of ecological relationships are the same question. In this paper we emphasise the importance that Aboriginal people place on social relationships for good ecological relationships. In the past few decades natural resource managers have sought Indigenous knowledge relevant to Western ideas of environment, and in doing so, created distinctions between 'ecological' and 'social' knowledge this is an artificial 'white-fella' separation. Additionally, Indigenous knowledge has been treated as if it were a static archive that need only be extracted and applied to resource development and planning. Instead it is dynamic, adaptive and contextual. As a consequence of compartmentalisation and the assumption of timelessness, the importance of social relationships in ecological relationships has been overlooked. Some research has explored similarities between Indigenous knowledge and the Western concept of adaptive management, and raised the possibility of synergy between them. We agree there are possible connections and opportunities for exchange and further learning between Indigenous knowledge and ecological resilience and adaptive management. However, Indigenous knowledge and Western science belong to different world views. An important task is to explore ways of grappling with this ontological challenge. We suggest a conceptual turn around that we believe could assist in opening a dialogue as well as creating a set of foundational principles for robust ecological and social relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-265
Number of pages7
JournalRangeland Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • environmental management
  • rivers
  • traditional environmental knowledge
  • water resources


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