Indigenous knowledge at the heart of planetary health

National NAIDOC week (July 3-10) is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on earth.

It is this spirit that underpins the work and programs at MSDI as it moves towards tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the health of our planet.

Over millennia, Indigenous peoples have developed a close and unique connection with the lands and environments in which they live. They have established unique systems of knowledge, innovation and practice.

One of the ways Indigenous people think differently, says Director of MSDI Professor Tony Capon, is the importance of Country and a prevailing view that nature is sacred.

“This knowledge leans on practical ways to ensure the balance of the environment in which we live, so it may continue to provide essential services such as water, fertile soil, food, shelter and medicines by us living in harmony with it.”

The understanding that our health and wellbeing does not just depend on our own immediate personal circumstances and the healthcare we receive – but that it is about our interdependence on all other species and all living things. From animals and plants to every microorganism.”

This innate sense of interconnectedness with Country is captured in the image below by Frances Belle Parker, a proud Yaegl woman, painter, drawer, printmaker and installation artist from Maclean, a town in Clarence Valley, News South Wales (NSW), which was impacted by the recent floods and was one of the areas hardest hit by the devastating 2019/20 bushfires.

Innate sense of interconnectedness with Country is captured in the design by Frances Belle Parker, a proud Yaegl woman, painter, drawer, printmaker and installation artist from Maclean

I have chosen a gum leaf shape, however when upright it can also represent a flame. Inside the leaf is an aerial mapping of the Clarence River, the river is one that connects all people of the Clarence Valley. The dots represent people and the stripes represent the resilience embedded into us as people. The yellow dashes represent the bushfires which have caused havoc in the region, the green represents the replenishing and the new growth of nature.”

Yaegl artist, Frances Belle Parker

Frances is deeply inspired by her Mother’s land (Yaegl land) and her work depicts the landscape and the stories passed down through her Elders.

Clarence Valley, NSW, is one of the four focus communities of MSDI’s Fire to Flourish program, which partners with communities affected by the 2019/20 Australia bushfire season.

The program aims to support communities to lead their own recovery, co-create foundations for long-term resilience and wellbeing, and disrupt cycles of entrenched disadvantage.

This involves foregrounding Aboriginal wisdom as an underlying principle of the program, engaging Indigenous perspectives and voices through all aspects of its work. This includes the convening of the   program’s Indigenous Partnership Group, which shapes and provides Aboriginal leadership across the program.

You can learn more about Fire to Flourish here.