Decades of Indigenous Knowledge Now Accessible After Embargo Lifts

Decades of Indigenous Knowledge Now Accessible After Embargo Lifts

After a 30-year embargo, a vast archive of Indigenous Australian and Papuan New Guinean history and cultural knowledge is finally accessible to the communities it documents. The archive, compiled by anthropologists Catherine and Ronald Berndt during their extensive travels from 1939 to 1985, contains a wealth of information across 470 notebooks and 450,000 loose pages. Decades of Indigenous Knowledge Now Accessible After Embargo Lifts

The University of Western Australia (UWA) received the field notes upon Ms. Berndt’s passing in 1994, with the stipulation of a 30-year embargo. Recognizing the potential harm caused by the restricted access, UWA acknowledges the significance of lifting the embargo and the right of Indigenous communities to reclaim their cultural knowledge.

A Treasure Trove of Cultural Heritage

The Berndt collection, housed within UWA’s Berndt Museum, represents a significant holding of Indigenous cultural materials, including art and historical records. In 2020, the Museum’s leadership recognized the importance of Indigenous stewardship over cultural heritage. The collection’s move to UWA’s Indigenous Portfolio reflects this commitment to adhering to cultural protocols and ensuring Indigenous control over their cultural knowledge.

Community-Driven Access

UWA emphasizes a “community-first access approach” to the field notes. Working directly with Indigenous communities and representatives, the Museum will determine appropriate protocols for broader access. Professor Jill Milroy, UWA’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Education, highlights the importance of this initiative.

“The embargo has caused significant pain,” acknowledges Professor Milroy. “We are committed to working with Indigenous communities to ensure they can access, control, and benefit from their cultural heritage.”

Preserving and Sharing Knowledge

While the original notes are delicate, most have been digitized and indexed for easier access. The Berndt Museum website offers more information about the field notes, locations visited by the Berndts, and protocols for accessing the archive. This invaluable resource offers Indigenous communities the opportunity to reclaim their history and cultural knowledge, fostering a deeper understanding of their heritage.

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